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An Incentive for Volunteers

BABYLON, N.Y. -- In a move aimed at retaining and recruiting firefighters and ambulance workers, the Babylon Town Board has unanimously approved a measure allowing the town's 800 volunteers to buy into its health insurance plan starting next year.

Babylon officials said the town is the first municipality in the state to extend such an offer, a move made possible by legislation Gov. David A. Paterson signed into law in July.

Anthony V. LaFerrera, president of the Town of Babylon Chiefs' Association, said there is a new generation of volunteers whose paying jobs do not offer health insurance. He estimated that 40 percent to 50 percent of volunteers across Long Island do not have health coverage.

"This is another incentive to bring in new volunteers and keep those who are here," LaFerrera said.

The volunteers will pay the cost, but by joining the town's plan, will pay the group rate, which is cheaper than buying health insurance on their own.

State and local governments offer other incentives to volunteers, including a property tax break, a pension program, and a college tuition reimbursement, but this latest inducement will save some volunteers quite a bit of money, LaFerrera said.

"This was a big one," he said.

In another matter Wednesday, the five-member town board agreed to pay a consultant to determine whether it would be economically feasible for Babylon to buy into Suffolk County's health insurance program.

Currently, Babylon buys its health insurance from Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield at a cost of $7 million, a spokeswoman for Supervisor Steven Bellone said. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has urged towns and school districts to band together to increase their purchasing power. Bellone said the town is exploring Levy's idea. Islip and Huntington towns are conducting the same analysis, he said, and all three towns will share the consultant cost.

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