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CAMBRIA – The Cambria Town Board will hold a public hearing at 8 p.m. Thursday to consider local volunteer fire companies’ request to raise the town’s contribution to the firefighters’ service award program. The Town Board will vote Thursday on placing the matter on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The proposal is to raise the current award from $550 per year to $650 per year for each qualified firefighter, according to Cambria Supervisor Wright H. Ellis. He said this would currently affect 66 members of Cambria Volunteer Fire Company and Pekin Volunteer Fire Company, which both have had a defined contribution plan in place with the town since it became available in 1992.

The proposal is to raise the town’s annual contribution for the entire program from the current $40,000 per year to $45,000, which includes a $1,600 administration cost.

The program was established by referendum in the fall of 1991, going into effect in 1992. The public voted to increase the annual individual amount the qualified firefighters earned from $480 to $550 by a second referendum vote in 2005.

“The state has changed the law and allowed the maximum contribution to increase to $700 per qualified firefighter,” Ellis said. “The fire companies asked for an increase last year, but it was too late to get it on the November ballot last year.”

Harold Wollaber II, president of the Cambria Volunteer Fire Co., said that firefighters were earning around 8 percent interest annually on the town’s plan when it began. Firefighters cannot collect the awards until age 62.

“But now, I don’t think it’s even 1 percent interest,” he said. “This is why we’re asking for the increase. If we were getting the same interest rate as we had in the beginning, we wouldn’t be bothering the town for this. I’m a taxpayer, too, and I don’t like to see rates raised, but I think that if the public saw it in this light, they would understand it better.”

Ellis said the Town Board will vote on the matter Thursday following the public hearing in order to meet the deadline for the Nov. 5 ballot.

Ellis explained that under the defined contribution plan, firefighters must earn 50 points each year to qualify for the statewide program.

“They earn points based on active participation in their fire companies,” he said.