CITIES ‑- VOLUNTEER FIREMEN ‑- COMPENSATION ‑- DISTRIBUTION OF UNEXPENDED SUM ON BASIS OF POINT SYSTEM.
A plan whereby a city of the third class compensates its volunteer firemen at the end of the budget period by dividing the unexpended surplus remaining in the fire department fund among the firemen on the basis of a point system is valid.
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March 11, 1953
Honorable Cliff Yelle
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 51-53 No. 493
Attention: !ttMr. A. E. Hankins, Chief Examiner
Receipt of your letter of February 25, 1953, is hereby acknowledged. You have requested our views upon the legality of a proposal whereby a city of the third class compensates its volunteer firemen upon the basis of a merit or point system.
We conclude that such a system of compensating firemen is valid.
The city has both a paid fire department and a volunteer section. Under the fire department budget a specified sum is budgeted for volunteer fire calls. At the end of the budget period, any unexpended sum in this item is paid to the firemen on the basis of a point system. The points are credited to the individual fireman on the basis of the time he has applied during the year with some additional allowance for acting as an officer. For example, for each fire, five points are allowed; for each meeting, ten points; for each first aid call, seven points; etc.
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After the year is completed, the total amount of money left in the fund is divided by the aggregate sum of all points accumulated. In this way the value of each point is determined. Each fireman is then compensated in the amount of the total value of the points he has accumulated during the year.
It is apparent that the proposal is nothing more than a system of compensating volunteer firemen for services rendered, contingent, however, upon the existence of an unexpended sum in the budget after all other expenses have been paid. In other words, the city council appropriates a specific amount of money which the fire department may spend and makes compensation of volunteer firemen last in order of priority.
In a letter of the attorney general to the city attorney of Cle Elum, dated March 26, 1940, it was held that the law governing general powers of third class cities (now RCW 35.24.290 subsection (5)) authorized, by implication, the compensation of volunteer firemen. The only difference between that situation and this is that the compensation there proposed was based upon a specified amount per fire.
In addition to the statute construed above, RCW 35.24.020 authorizes the appointment and compensation of other appointive officers as may be provided by ordinance. We assume that the volunteer section of the fire department is provided for by ordinance.
If it is within the power of a city to compensate volunteer firemen, the determination of the basis for such compensation must certainly be included as an incident to that same power. The elements established by the ordinance as matters to be considered in determining the basis for compensation are properly designated as compensable duties.
We believe that the proposed method of compensating volunteer firemen is valid.
Very truly yours,
RALPH M. DAVIS
Assistant Attorney General