NM law boosts volunteer firefighter pensions

April 1, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — [auth] Retirement benefits will increase for New Mexico’s volunteer firefighters under legislation signed into law Monday by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Starting in July, the new law will boost retirement benefits to $250 a month — up from $200 currently — for volunteer firefighters who are at least age 55 and served for 25 or more years.

Retirement benefits will increase to $125 a month — from $100 currently — for those who are age 55 and have served at least 10 years but less than 25 years.

There are about 670 retirees and nearly 5,100 active volunteer firefighters across the state.

Retirement benefits have remained unchanged since the program was established in the 1980s, according to supporters of the legislation.

The retirement program is financed by part of the money from a tax on property and vehicle insurance premiums. Volunteer firefighters, who do not receive a salary, make no payments into their retirement system unlike state and local government employees who contribute a portion of their salaries into their pension system.

Martinez also signed a bill that expands the compensation that volunteer firefighters can receive without a governmental employer being required to comply with federal minimum wage and overtime provisions. The new law, which takes effect June 14, will permit volunteer firefighters to receive a stipend, which can cover expenses or be a nominal fee for their service.

“Volunteer firefighters are a critical part of New Mexico’s public safety system, particularly in rural New Mexico, and they also bolster and support the work of professional firefighters during the difficult wildland fire season,” Martinez said in a statement.

The governor faces a deadline of Friday to sign or veto measures approved by the Legislature during its recently completed 60-day session.

Martinez hasn’t acted on several high profile proposals, including one to improve the solvency of the Public Employees Retirement Association pension system for 55,000 state and local government workers and 31,000 retirees.

A spokesman for the governor said the proposed pension overhaul is still under review. The measure will lower cost-of-living increases for retirees, require some workers to contribute more into the pension program, and establish new retirement eligibility and benefits for employees hired after July 1.

The governor has said she will sign a nearly $5.9 billion state budget proposal as well as a bill that cuts corporate income taxes but could force cities and counties to raise local taxes to offset a loss of state money over 15 years.

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