(1) The Legislature recognizes that volunteer firefighters and rescue squad personnel have provided fire suppression and emergency response services to their local communities for over a century at only a fraction of the cost to the taxpayers which would have resulted from implementing a system of paid fire departments and rescue squad services. Many cities, villages, and rural areas could not afford the cost of maintaining their current level of emergency response services without the presence of a local pool of committed and dedicated volunteer firefighters and volunteer rescue squad personnel. It is necessary for the public health, safety, and welfare of the people in many Nebraska communities to encourage the recruitment and retention of such individuals as volunteer emergency responders.
(2) The Legislature finds that the duties and responsibilities of the volunteer personnel in fire departments and rescue squads in the State of Nebraska have become increasingly complex and time-consuming, requiring an ever higher degree of dedication to cope with new challenges and technological change. The Legislature recognizes that volunteer fire departments and rescue squads must encourage a high level of training and professionalism among their volunteer personnel in order to respond to these increasingly complex and hazardous responsibilities.
(3) The Legislature finds that Nebraska communities which rely on volunteers to provide fire protection and emergency response services are faced with numerous economic and demographic trends and conditions which make the recruitment and retention of qualified volunteers increasingly difficult and that, as a consequence, some volunteer departments are trying to cope with declining rosters of active volunteers.
(4) The Legislature finds that the recruitment and retention of qualified men and women in emergency response capacities in volunteer fire departments is a matter of statewide as well as local concern and that it is appropriate for the state to assist local political subdivisions in achieving that goal. Further, the Legislature finds that the expenditure of local tax revenue for purposes of the Volunteer Emergency Responders Recruitment and Retention Act will significantly benefit the public health, safety, and welfare in participating cities, villages, counties, and fire protection districts and that such expenditures are for a public purpose.
(5) Therefor, the Legislature finds that cities of the first class, cities of the second class, villages, and rural and suburban fire protection districts should be encouraged and assisted in their efforts to retain trained and qualified volunteer fire safety, rescue squad, and emergency response personnel to serve their local communities and should be granted the authority to participate in a local option incentive program designed to provide for the payment of service award benefits which reward the length of service of active volunteer members of volunteer fire departments and volunteer rescue squads. It is the intent of the Legislature that such programs will be developed, organized, structured, and administered to satisfy the length of service award plan requirements of section 457(e)(11) of the Internal Revenue Code as modified by the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 so as to insure that benefits received by participants will not be subject to taxation until actually distributed at age sixty-five or as otherwise provided in the Volunteer Emergency Responders Recruitment and Retention Act.