Eight Brookhaven Town ambulance districts are asking residents Tuesday to approve a change in the retirement age for their volunteers and increase their monthly retirement payouts by 50%.
The retirement age would drop from 65 to 60, and retirement benefits would jump from $20 per month to $30 per month for each year of service, if voters approve the measures, officials said. The changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Officials say the changes would help recruit and retain volunteers, who work as emergency medical technicians and other first responders. They say funds for the retirement increases would come from payments for ambulance services and would not increase property taxes.
The districts — East Moriches, Manorville, Mastic, Mastic Beach, Medford, Shirley, South Country and Tri-Harbor — are holding referendums from 2 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Residents will cast votes at their respective ambulance district headquarters.
Gregory Miglino, chief of the South Country Ambulance Company, one of Brookhaven's largest ambulance corps, said the changes would help the company compete for volunteers with neighboring districts that already have the lower retirement age and enhanced benefits.
“My feeling is when you're considered the number one agency out there … you have to be providing something close to what other agencies are providing,” Miglino said.
The impact on costs varies from one district to the next depending on how many retired volunteers each one has.
East Moriches, for example, would see its annual retirement payouts increase from $12,000 to $43,000. In Medford, total annual payouts would jump from $54,000 to $134,000.
Details of each referendum are posted on the Brookhaven Town Clerk's website, brookhavenny.gov/731/Town-Notices.
Miglino, whose ambulance company covers South Shore communities such as East Patchogue, Bellport, Brookhaven and South Yaphank, said the proposed retirement pay increase was made possible by the EMS Cost Recovery Act, a state law enacted earlier this year that enables volunteer companies to charge a fee for ambulance services.
In South Country, he said, officials expect to collect $850,000 to $1 million per year from ambulance service fees. Officials said South Country's annual retirement payments would increase from the current $29,000 to as much as $118,500 if the referendum passes.
“All money for retirement would come out of there,” Miglino said, referring to ambulance fee revenue. Ambulance revenue not used for retirement would help pay other costs, such as equipment purchases, he said.
“It’s actually going to save the taxpayer money," Miglino said.
Several community leaders contacted by Newsday said they were not aware of the votes and declined to comment.
Beth Wahl, president of the Mastic-Shirley Chamber of Commerce, said hiking benefits would be a modest and inexpensive way to honor volunteers, who rush out to late-night emergencies and give up family plans to serve their communities.
“I think they deserve it," said Wahl, a former Mastic Ambulance District commissioner whose late husband was a Mastic and Shirley ambulance volunteer. "They work really, really hard. The amount of money they get is minimal.”