AN ACT TO ENACT THE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT PRESERVATION ACT OF 2021.
Part I titles the act, the "Volunteer Fire Department Preservation Act of 2021."
Recodifies GS 58-78-1 through GS 58-78-20 (regarding the State Fire and Rescue Commission) as Part 1 of Article 78, GS Chapter 58 and entitles the Part, General Provisions.
Enacts Part 2 of Article 78, GS Chapter 58, establishing the North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Program (Program), administered by the 10-member North Carolina Firefighters Fellows Committee (Committee), established by the Act, with the assistance of the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM). Details Committee membership, with members serving two-year terms beginning July 1, 2021. Provides for committee leadership, member expenses and vacancies. Charges the Committee with oversight of the Program, including forgivable loan recipient selection criteria, selection procedures, and selection of recipients to receive forgivable loans. Directs the NC Fire and Rescue Commissioner (Commissioner) to select a staff member from the OSFM to serve as the Program administrator, subject to Committee consent, who is charged with Program administration and oversight. Identifies five recruitment specific duties of the administrator.
Directs that the Program provide forgivable loans of up to $3,152 per year for up to two years to selected individuals to be used for tuition, fees, and books in order to obtain an associates degree in fire protection or related fields of study. Caps the maximum forgivable loans provided annually at 100, with the total number of recipients in the Program capped at 200 per year. Requires annual recipient selection by June 1. Details eligibility criteria, including appearing on the State roster of an eligible fire department, meeting residency requirement for in-State tuition purposes, and being a high school graduate or high school senior with the intent to be employed or volunteer for an eligible department upon completion of the Program. Bars from eligibility persons convicted of a felony or a crime for which punishment could have been imprisonment for more than two years. Gives the Committee flexibility in required application materials, including requiring certified background checks on applicants over 18. Deems application materials and Committee deliberations confidential and not public record. Requires the Committee to publish application, award, and notification deadlines and provide written notification to applications regarding the outcome of the Committee's deliberations. Deems recipient selection final, and requires the Committee to adopt standards for awards, including scholastic profile, potential for excellence in the profession, school and community service, at least two references, and demonstrated writing ability. Requires the State Fire Marshal to administer the forgivable loans once recipients are named, as specified. Provides for recipient obligations, including continued enrollment in the appropriate field at a community college with a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Requires the Program administrator, in coordination with the Committee, to annually report to the NC Fire and Rescue Commission, beginning January 1, 2023, on the Program, as specified.
Provides for terms, forgiveness and repayment guidelines for the forgivable loans, including capping the interest rate at 10% and requiring disbursement directly to the community college where the recipient is enrolled. Provides loan forgiveness for recipients who, within five years after obtaining their associates degree in fire protection of a related, Committee-approved field, the recipient is a volunteer or employed on a full-time basis for a period of at least four years in an eligible fire department. Additionally, provides for repayment extensions for up to two years, repayment within 60 months, and default on the loans.
Effective July 1, 2021, and applies to the award of forgivable loans beginning with the 2022-23 academic year.
Amends GS 105-275 to exclude from tax 25% of the assessed value of housing together with the land that is owned and used a a primary residence by an unpaid member of a volunteer fire department who is on the certified roster (defined to mean the listing of firefighters meeting the eligibility criteria for the NC Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund), attended at least 36 hours of fire department drills and meeting during the taxable year, and has more than five years of volunteer fire service, as verified from the certified roster. Effective for taxes imposed for taxable years beginning on or after July 1, 2021.
Amends GS 58-86-35, GS 58-86-40, and GS 58-86-45, increasing monthly member payments to the NC Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Pension Fund (Pension Fund) from $10 to $20 as it applies to new and current members and workers seeking retroactive membership.
Amends GS 58-86-55, increasing the monthly pension to eligible members, including disabled members, beneficiaries, and retired firefighters from $170 to $180 monthly. Makes conforming changes regarding increased monthly member contributions.
Effective January 1, 2022, and apply to monthly payments into the Pension Fund for months of service on or after that date.
Includes a severability clause.
© 2021 School of Government The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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