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Newport Council to meet Nov. 17

Prospective increase in firefighter’s retirement benefit among items to cover

The Newport City Council is due to meet Thursday Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m., and among the items up for consideration is a proposal to change the bylaws of the Newport Fire Relief Association as these pertain to the retirement benefit.

Currently set at $4,200 per year of service, the proposed change would raise this to $4,500 per year of service, along with going from a private to a state plan, saving money on audit and financial advisor fees in the process. These savings (to the tune of $15,000) would then be turned back and used to benefit City of Newport firefighters. But a key reason for the bump in retirement compensation?

Not enough volunteer firefighters, or fewer than ideal, if you prefer. Fire Chief Steve Wiley and Derek Johnson as president of the Newport Firefighters Relief Association filled in the council on the present situation in packet correspondence.

“The Newport Fire Department is authorized for 35 members,” they wrote. “We are currently staffed with 21 members. This is our lowest level in a decade…” With people leading busy lives and a move away from volunteerism, the question of both retaining current members and attracting new ones is an important consideration. There’s also training cost.

With the cost to equip and train a firefighter potentially exceeding $20,000, the training isn’t cheap. Recruiting and then losing firefighters, can take its own toll. The updated retirement plan as proposed is one way to attract new department members at Newport, with those of surrounding departments able to transfer time accrued elsewhere, potentially saving on initial training cost as well. Wiley and Johnson closed out their council communication with a tribute to the dedication of Newport firefighters.

“The dedication and expertise of our fire depart- ment is unparalleled,” they wrote the Council. “The Newport Firefighter leaves their warm home on the coldest of nights. They go to their full-time jobs with little or no sleep. They leave their own families during severe storms. They miss school concerts, athletic events, holidays, and family gatherings. The Newport Firefighter is always there to answer the call for help. They do this out of pride in the community and a sincere concern for their neighbors.”

The proposed increase in annual retirement benefits goes before the Newport Council Nov. 17.

Decision on the plan awaits Council consideration Nov. 17, with meetings streamed for viewing at swctc.org.

November 16, 2022