TOPSHAM — Topsham is trying to retain its fire department’s per diem staff by offering health care.

Currently, Topsham has 50 per diem firefighters. Several of those work more than 30 hours per week, putting them above the threshold that requires employers to offer coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Town Manager Rich Roedner said the town would be subject to a financial penalties that could add up to $20,000-$30,000 if those employees went to seek coverage from the healthcare marketplace.

As a solution, Roedner says he’ll recommend the Select Board allow qualified per diem firefighters to purchase health care through the town. It would allow the town to avoid penalties, but there may be another added benefit.

“It has the potential of keeping people on board as per diem,” said Roedner. “They may sign up for shifts to meet those hours for insurance.”

The market for per diem firefighters is competitive. Roedner said Topsham has been trying to keep up with what surrounding towns pay. Topsham raised it’s pay for per diem firefighters and approved a full-time position at May’s town meeting.

“We went up as high as $20 per hour,” said Roedner. “But, there are towns around us paying as high as $25.”

The offer to purchase insurance through the town could help retention according to Roedner. He added the town is in a good spot right now with the number of per diem firefighters available.

“That’s actually been our target number for years,” he said.

Firefighters averaging more than 20 hours per week for a six month period would be eligible under the proposed changes. It will go before selectmen Thursday night.

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