Disability Board Issues

The following is from a letter discussing the structure and current problems with Disability Boards. The central problem is that the number of LEOFF 1 members decline it is becoming increasingly difficult for small jurisdictions to find qualified LEOFF 1 active or retired members to serve on the Boards. In the last session of the legislature there was an effort to increase the population level for a required Disability Board from 20,000 to 30,000.  That failed but other similar problems continue to occur and proposals to combine boards or contract with other boards are starting to surface.  We anticipate legislation dealing with these issue will be put forward in the next session.  The Select Committee on Pension Policy will take testimony and possible Executive Action on the issue on December 11th.

Before the development of the Law Enforcement and Firefighters Retirement System (LEOFF I and LEOFF II) there were two retirement statutes for firefighters RCW 41.16 and RCW 41.18, RCW 41.18.15 for fire districts and one retirement statute for police officers RCW 41.20.  The three retirement statutes are commonly referred to as the Prior Act.  The firefighters and police officers retirement systems were similar in benefits but a little different in the makeup of the boards and funding for the retirement system.

These Prior Act systems were pension systems and the boards were pension boards.  This was before the creation of the Department of Retirement Systems, DRS.  RCW 41.16.020 created in each city and town a municipal firefighters pension board to consist of the following five members, ex officio, the mayor, or in a city of first class the mayor or a designated representative who shall be an elected official of the city, who shall be chairperson of the board, the city comptroller or clerk, the chairperson of finance of the city council, or if there is no chairperson of finance, the city treasurer and in addition, two regularly employed or retired firefighters elected by secret ballot of those employed and retired firefighters who are subject to the jurisdiction of the board.

The board has the sole authority and responsibility to administer the pension system, funding, budget, authorizing retirements for service, early retirements, and classifying retirement as service or disability.  When granting a disability they must rule if the disability is duty caused or non-duty.  The board has other duties and responsibilities too numerous to list in this communication.  The board is in effect the DRS of the jurisdiction they serve

RCW 41.26.110:

In March of 1970 the Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighter Retirement System (LEOFF) was created.  By statute, city and county disability boards were created.  Each city having a population of twenty thousand or more shall establish a disability board.  The board has jurisdiction over all members employed by the city and composed of the following five members: two members of the city legislative body to be appointed by the mayor; one active or retired firefighter employed by or retired from the city to be elected by the firefighters employed by or retired from the city who are subject to the jurisdiction of the board; one active or retired law enforcement officer employed by or retired from the city to be elected by the law enforcement officers employed or retired who are under the jurisdiction of the board.

There is an Attorney General ruling that states: cities having pension boards under RCW 41.16 can also serve as disability boards under RCW 41.26, the LEOFF statute.  The problem is that we are having difficulty finding firefighters and law enforcement officers to serve on these boards.  We would like the Select Committee on Pension Policy to have a housekeeping bill introduced to clarify and make the language more uniform as to who can be elected to serve on the various boards, any employed or retired firefighter from the department or fire district served by the board.  We want to retain the language that stipulates that only the employed or retired firefighters under jurisdiction of the board can elect.

Again, because of the difficulty in finding firefighters and law enforcement officers to serve on the various boards, we would like to broaden the language to establish that any employed or retired firefighter or law enforcement officer who is a resident of the jurisdiction the board serves, city, county or fire district can serve or be elected by the employed or retired firefighters or law enforcement officers under the jurisdiction of the board.  These boards have worked well in the past and this request to broaden the scope of who can be elected to the board does not change the balance of the board between the elected officers and firefighters or law enforcement representatives.

Due to the problem of staffing these boards, there is no RCW 41.16 board in the City of Edmonds.  A lawsuit has been filed by a retired firefighter because the Mayor has repeatedly refused to pay his retroactive salary.  If there was a board in place I am sure the board would have ruled as required in the pension statute.

The City of Mill Creek is having a problem with their RCW 41.26 Disability Board.  The city recently requested Snohomish County under some inter government sharing statute to take over the administration of the Mill Creek Disability Board.  I advised that this would be in violation of the law.  Snohomish County refused to grant the request of Mill Creek.

Dick Warbrouck, President Retired Firefighters of Washington

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