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Overtime & Stipends Might End County Employees Serving As Volunteer Firefighters

Photo via Flickr//Andrew Magill

An audit by the Internal Revenue Service of Escambia County’s payroll is resulting in changes for the county’s volunteer firefighters. That could result in fewer volunteers.

Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown says what started out as a routine audit on the 2012 tax year eventually focused on a number of county employees who moonlighted as volunteer firefighters

Those employees’ W-2 forms were for their regular jobs, and the 1099s showed no taxes withheld from their stipends. In the course of the investigation, the IRS determined the county owed about $79,000 in uncollected employer taxes. That brought about changes in withholding as of January 1.

According to county records, volunteer firefighters in Escambia receive stipends for answering 25% of their station’s calls during the month. That can range from about $300 to $550, depending on rank. Escambia County Public Service Director Mike Weaver says the volunteer firefighters involved are not on the hook for back taxes.

The new policy will also require any volunteer to resign if they are employed by the Escambia County BOCC to avoid any potential tax or overtime issues.

Volunteer firefighters who work for county entities not under the County Commission’s umbrella, such as the Sheriff’s Office and School Board, won’t have to resign. Weaver says they’re in recruiting mode to fill the upcoming vacancies.

Meanwhile, County Administrator Jack Brown says while the inconsistencies are from 2012, the county won’t have to worry about any other tax year, as part of the settlement.

The changes in withholding and employment status are now in place at the County Clerk’s office, which oversees the county's payroll. Other changes to Escambia County’s fire services will need approval by the County Commission.