Council approves firefighter compensation

Gering Fire Chief Nathan Flowers explains how the state’s firefighter recruitment and retention plan helps his department retain qualified personnel. The council voted unanimously to continue the program.

Gering firefighters will continue to receive compensation for their service as city council members voted to continue the city’s participation in the state program in place since 2000.

Gering Fire Chief Nathan Flowers explained the program to council members at their regular Monday meeting.

In 1999-2000, the state Legislature established a recruitment and retention statute, allowing cities to participate in a deferred compensation program for its firefighters.

About five years ago, Nebraska passed another statute that gives firefighters tax credits for meeting specific criteria. They include length of service, number of calls responded to, additional training and other public meetings.

“The state realizes there’s a huge value to volunteer fire departments and wants to continue supporting the state’s firefighters,” Flowers said.

Once a firefighter is in the department for two years and has met the state criteria, he or she will receive a $250 tax credit.

“Our job in Gering is to certify the list of firefighters that have met those requirements,” he said. “The council has to approve the list before it’s sent to the state Revenue Department for verification.”

Flowers told council members the city signed on to the Nebraska Volunteer Emergency Responder Recruitment and Retention Act as soon as it was passed in 2000 and developed its own program soon after.

“This program has a direct correlation to our department’s success,” he said. “It’s essential for us to hire and keep people in the department.”

Funding for firefighter compensation comes from the department’s annual budget. Since 2000, the city has contributed into a fund annually for each fighter that qualifies under the statute.

“We always expect some firefighters to either retire or move on prior to the time where they’re vested in the plan,” Flowers said. “If that happens, the money not vested is forfeited.”

Over time, the forfeited money has built up to a point where it can be used for the city’s contribution into the plan.

“The fund’s trustee needs your approval to use the forfeitures for this fiscal year,” Flowers told council members. “That will save my department $11,000 from the budget.”

Before the regular meeting got underway, Gering City Clerk Kathy Welfl administered the oath of office to the council’s newest member, Parrish Abel, who serves in Ward IV.

After the short meeting, Abel said he still would like to get some of the mom-and-pop stores back into Gering.

“About the only time Main Street is busy now is during Oregon Trail Days in July and we’re kind of a bedroom community,” he said. “I’d like to see more people come here to raise their families and shop in Gering and stay in Gering.”

In addition to a new assignment as the city’s liaison to the Airport Authority Board, Abel will serve on the Public Safety, Public Works, and

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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