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March 21, 2019
Firefighter Referendum Information
Posted On: Sep 21, 2011


September 7, 2011

For many of you receiving this email, it may be our first opportunity to communicate directly about the majority vote retirement system referendum for certain firefighters. State Controller Donna Jones, who also serves as the State Social Security Administrator (Administrator), and her staff continue to devote significant resources to the research of and correction to Social Security coverage for certain Idaho firefighters. This email – albeit lengthy – will outline the progress made, future actions required to comply with federal and state law, and a brief summary of important information.


The history of the events leading to this referendum is available in the "Idaho Firefighter Referendum" section of our new SSA 218 Agreement Web site: The site also includes many links to federal and state laws that are applied to correctly determine social security coverage for state and local governments. Please visit the site often to view new information. We will post updates as they are available.

Once it was established that a referendum is required for certain firefighters, our office consulted with the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) and then joined with Governor Otter and legislative leadership to write and propose legislation allowing the Administrator and her designees access to PERSI retirement records. Access is required to correctly identify the eligible voters (not all firefighters will be eligible to vote). Governor Otter signed the legislation on April 11, 2011. Shortly thereafter, our office began the critical review of employer records to identify those which have firefighter positions that are potentially eligible to vote.

We compared our 218 coverage agreements with the PERSI records and found that not all of the information needed for social security coverage purposes is captured for PERSI purposes. We also found that many of the employer names are not the same. As firefighter entities were created, dissolved, merged, consolidated or had a name change, it appears that our offices were not always notified and, therefore, the identification process has been more complicated and required more time than anticipated.


The steps leading to the vote are:


Complete employer identification

To complete the process, we will need additional information from you, the firefighter employer. Under the authority vested in the State Controller, our office will email a questionnaire to you in the near future asking for the final pieces of employer identification information. Your accurate and verifiable answers will be key to determining eligibility. Participation is required and all replies will be confidential and used for Section 218 purposes only. Please return only one questionnaire per employer.

If you, as fire chief, are not the contact person for referendum correspondence, please reply to this email by September 14, 2011 notifying our office who the contact should be. To avoid confusion, we are asking for one contact per firefighter employer who will then be responsible for forwarding referendum information as needed.



It is important to note that this is a questionnaire to continue the eligibility review. The receipt of or reply to this survey does not represent or imply that your firefighter employees are eligible or not eligible to vote in this referendum.

Identify and notify eligible voters

After identifying the employers that have eligible positions, we will contact you again asking for a list of the employees meeting the eligibility criteria. This list will then be verified with the PERSI membership list. This process will result in the identification of eligible voters and the official polling register.

It appears that cities and counties that once included firefighter positions have created a separate legal entity (such as a fire protection district) which now includes the firefighter positions. In some cases, our office was not notified. Our records may not have been updated to show the structural change. If you receive this email and are no longer the employer for the firefighter positions, please forward this email to the correct employer and include in the email.

All eligible voters will be contacted directly by the State Controller’s Office. The employer will also receive one list of all its eligible voters. It is important that the list submitted for verification contain all current information and agree with the member’s PERSI record. PERSI address changes can be made by the employer electronically through the Transmittal Report of Employee Deductions or the employee may submit PERSI form RS110


Issue legal Notice of Referendum (minimum 90-day notice)

Federal law requires a minimum 90-day Notice of Referendum (Notice). One Notice will be distributed via email to the employment location for eligible firefighters. It will be the employer’s legal responsibility to post the Notice in a conspicuous location at the place of employment and, without delay, inform the eligible voters the Notice has been received and posted.

If it is discovered during the eligibility identification process that an employee who is eligible to vote is on a military deployment or other qualified absence, the federal law allows for an additional 60 days for the Notice of Referendum resulting in a minimum of 150 days from the date the Notice is given until the date of the vote.


Schedule educational meetings

Federal law does not require educational meetings as part of the referendum. Controller Jones recognizes the importance of this vote and that every eligible voter should have the opportunity to openly discuss the effect of a yes or no vote. Along with the Notice of Referendum, we will have a schedule of meetings in key voter population locations throughout the state. Representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), PERSI, and the State Controller’s Office will be available to explain the effect of the vote and the voting process or to answer questions.


Mail ballot to eligible voters (ballots will also be returned by mail)

The vote is by secret ballot. Approximately 21 calendar days prior to the date of the vote, eligible voters will receive voting instructions, official ballot, secrecy envelope, and return



affidavit envelope directly from the State Controller’s Office. Each voter will return the ballot by mail. All valid ballots received in the State Controller’s Office by 5:00 PM Mountain Time on the date of the vote will be counted. The voting process will be discussed during the educational meetings and detailed in the instructions accompanying the ballot.

If a majority of the eligible members of the retirement system (not a majority of those voting, unless all those voting are actually all of the eligible members of the retirement system) vote



in favor of coverage, the State will submit a modification to its agreement to extend coverage to the specific retirement system group. The status quo is maintained.



If Social Security coverage stops as a result of this referendum, to complete the refund of taxes and removal of associated credits, the employer will be required to submit IRS Form 941X for each quarter affected and SSA Form W2C for each employee and for each year affected. The person responsible for payroll and Social Security reporting for the eligible voter may also want to attend the educational meetings.

A Counting Board will canvass the votes after the close of business and certify the results. The results will be posted on the Idaho SSA 218 Agreement Web site.


to continuing to participate in Social Security, the tax will no longer be withheld for the Old Age Survivors Disability Insurance (OASDI) portion of Social Security, the OASDI taxes paid during the open tax years will be available for refund according to IRS policy and procedures and all associated Social Security credits will be removed according to SSA policy and procedures. IRS and SSA will provide additional information regarding the refund and removal processes during the educational meetings.

Important Information


Section 218 covers a position not an individual.

Reference: SSA - POMS: SL 30001.320 - Retirement System Coverage Group (Section 218(d)) - 05/01/2006

The retirement system coverage group is not a permanent grouping. It exists only for referendum and coverage purposes and is not a separate group for reporting purposes. Once coverage has been obtained, the retirement system coverage group becomes for reporting purposes part of one of the absolute coverage groups described in 20 CFR, Chapter III, §404.1205(b)

The coverage group for this referendum includes positions under a retirement system prior to PERSI membership date (primarily affecting positions covered by the Firefighters Retirement Fund).

Definition of retirement system for Section 218 purposes

For Section 218 purposes, a retirement system is a pension, annuity, retirement or similar fund or system established by a State or political subdivision. The plan is considered established by the entity if there is any payment of public funds toward the cost of the plan or the plan is 4

established under the entity's authority. The system need not have been created by the legislature of the State or the political subdivision, nor does it have to be a plan under which the benefits are guaranteed by State constitution. A retirement system can include a group annuity policy purchased by a State or political subdivision from a private insurance company to provide retirement benefits for its employees. A retirement system is established if State law requires retirement system protection for employees on a mandatory basis. (This is true whether or not the employing entity has actually implemented the law.)

Reference: SSA - POMS: SL 30001.320 - Section 218(d) - 05/01/2006

  • Not all firefighters will be eligible to vote

    Reference: SSA - POMS: SL 30001.320 - Section 218(d) - 05/01/2006

    Federal law defines eligible and non-eligible as:


    To be eligible to vote in a referendum an employee must be:

    . The 1954 Amendments to the Social Security Act authorized the coverage of employees in positions under a retirement system and prescribed the mechanics for accomplishing this coverage. The amendments required that the employees occupying positions under a retirement system be given an opportunity to vote to determine whether their services should be covered. This vote was not held for certain firefighters covered by a Social Security Replacement Plan prior to withholding Social Security beginning October 1, 1980.


    a member of the retirement system (PERSI) at the time the referendum is held, and


    in a position under the retirement system (PERSI), i.e., be in an employment relationship (as distinguished from actually performing services) both at the time the notice of the referendum is given and at the time the referendum is held.


    Generally, an employee is a member of a retirement system if the employee’s personal relationship to the system qualifies the employee for benefits under the system or for additional benefits if the employee is already qualified. An employee does not lose eligibility to vote when absent from work because of illness, summer vacation or leave of absence (e.g., teachers on summer vacation, members of the National Guard or reservists of the U.S. military and naval services who are called up for active duty) if the employment relationship continues.

    Employees who are not eligible to vote are those:


    who are already covered under the agreement, e.g., a member of an absolute coverage group whose position is now being brought under a retirement system;


    who are not members of the retirement system (PERSI);


    who are excluded from coverage by the mandatory or optional exclusions;


    who are members of the retirement system but are not State or local government employees, e.g., cooperative extension agents of the Department of Agriculture, are not eligible for coverage under an agreement; and


    who are hired after the date the 90/150-day notice is given and before the date the referendum is held.


    All States are authorized under Section 218(d)(3) of the Act to conduct majority vote referenda for coverage. If a majority of the eligible members of the retirement system (not a majority of those voting, unless all those voting are actually all of the eligible members of the retirement system) vote in favor of coverage, the State will submit a modification to its agreement to extend coverage to that group.


    Federal law prescribes the referendum conditions

    While the referendum itself is a State matter, Federal law requires certain minimum conditions be met. It requires the Governor or an official designated by him/her to certify these conditions have been met. (The Governor's delegation of his/her certification responsibility may be general or specific, continuing or limited.) The Governor (or designate) must certify the:


    vote was held by secret written ballot; (Federal law does not prescribe the ballot format or the voting mechanics.)


    opportunity to vote was given and limited to the eligible employees


    employees were given not less than 90 days notice of the vote (Federal law does not prescribe the form of notice.)


    vote was supervised by the Governor or by a named designate of the Governor


    a majority of the eligible employees of the retirement system voted for coverage.


    Reference: SSA - POMS: SL 30001.323 - Section 218(d)(4) - 12/09/2005


    Mandatory Medicare Coverage



    The employee was performing regular and substantial services for remuneration for the state or political subdivision employer before April 1, 1986;

    The employee was a bona fide employee of that employer on March 31, 1986;

    The employment relationship with that employer was not entered into for purposes of avoiding the Medicare tax;

    The employment relationship with that employer has been continuous since March 31, 1986.



    All members of the coverage group will continue to pay the Medicare portion of the Social Security tax regardless of the majority vote unless he or she meets all of the following requirements:

    State and local government employees hired (or rehired) after March 31, 1986, are subject to mandatory Medicare coverage. Public employees covered for Social Security under a Section 218 Agreement are already covered for Medicare.

    Services performed after March 31, 1986, by an employee who was hired by a State or political subdivision employer before April 1, 1986, are exempt from mandatory Medicare coverage if the employee is a member of a public retirement system and meets all of the following requirements:

    Referendum costs will be borne by the State Controller’s Office

    Social Security law is complex. We are providing this detail to clarify the steps needed to conduct a lawful referendum. Our Web site has more information and a link to our email ( We welcome your visits, comments, and questions.

    Thank you.

    Rita Foltman

    State Social Security Manager

    Office of the State Controller

    PO Box 83720

    Boise ID 83720-0011

    The State Controllers Office will bear the cost of the official federal and state requirements to conduct the majority vote retirement system referendum and the educational meeting site room expense. Ballots will be cast by mail using a postage-paid and pre-addressed affidavit envelope.

    Costs incurred by an employer or employee for optional events or travel costs to and from meetings will be at the employer and/or employee’s expense.



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