Southeast Town Supervisor Tony Hay, in what he described as an effort to cut costs and bring the municipality back into solvency, is proposing to eliminate the offer of health insurance benefits for Town Board members and Town Justices who are elected to those seats after January 1, 2013.
“The biggest problem this town faces, any town faces….is health insurance. And, we have to identify ways to save. We have to be proactive, not reactive…I have to try to come up with ways to save money,” Supervisor Hay said.
As it stands, the cost of employee and retiree health insurance, after employee contributions, amounts to an estimated $864,000 per year, or just under 10 percent of Southeast’s total annual operating budget.
The members of the Town Board and the Town Justices are all considered part-time positions and are the only the part-time town positions that come with an offer of health benefits.
Supervisor Hay said that there are six part-time elected officials and that three of them have family health insurance coverage through the town that costs $18,000 per employee. The other three part-time elected officials did not opt into the town’s plan and instead received a $3,000 buyout.
Under Supervisor Hay’s proposal, starting as of Jan. 1, 2013, part-time elected officials would no longer be able to participate in the town’s health insurance plan; employee contributions for a family plan would rise 5 percent, and an individual plan would rise 15 percent, with both groups contributing 25 percent to their health coverage; buy-outs, in which an incentive is paid to those who choose not participate in the town’s health plan, would drop from $3,000 to $1,000; and lastly, employees would have to work for the town for a minimum of 20 years in order to be eligible for retirement health benefits.
“Is it controversial? Yes and no. I’m going to grandfather in anybody currently in the system, but if you are on the Town Board in the future, or a Town Justice in the future, this proposal will save taxpayers $122, 662,” Supervisor Hay said. “We have to do something with health insurance in this town, because we’re just not going to be able to pay the bills…at minimum, we have to get more money from active employees [and future retirees] in order to make this system work…we have to do things to bring this town back into solvency.”
About a month ago, Supervisor Hay gathered town employees to present them with an incentive to switch to another health insurance plan that could ultimately save the town an estimated $300,000 annually, but that only three town employees had decided, as of yet, to make the switch.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Hudak said that she appreciated the supervisor’s work to identify ways to save the town money, but that she strongly disagreed with the proposal to not offer part-time elected officials health benefit packages.
“I can guarantee you that [the Town Justices] and every member of this [Town] Board works in excess of the number [of hours] that denotes a part-time employee,” Councilwoman Hudak said, noting that the Town Justices are on call at all hours and many times conduct arraignments in the middle of the night. “If you want to say that part-time employees have to pay more for their insurance, then, so be it. But to completely and utterly eliminate this ability to compensate people, hard-working people, I believe we are going to…stop attracting people who are the best and brightest in our community.”
Councilman Robert Cullen agreed with Councilwoman Hudak.
“You drive by here on a Saturday morning, a Sunday morning, sometimes [the Town Justices] are here. They work many hours. They have to write their decisions, which they do at home. It’s not just twice a week when they have court…there’s a lot more to the job,” Councilman Cullen said. “The Town Board is the same thing. It’s more than just meeting twice a month. It never ends with phone calls, emails…There are a lot of decisions to be made and I think you want to have the brightest people working for the town.”
Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt said that she did not learn that Town Board members were offered health benefits until last August when it was brought to her attention at a candidate forum during her campaign for office and she wondered how many other town residents were unaware of the same.
Eckardt said that she hoped residents would email the Town Board with their thoughts on the matter and join in on the discussion, as they were the ones who were footing the bill.
“I really want to hear from residents what they think: what the Town Board is worth to you? And if you think that by paying our benefits, that you believe you will attract the best and brightest… I really am willing to listen to the people to see what they are willing to pay for because it is on [their] dime,” Councilwoman Eckardt said.
Supervisor Hay said that he expected the discussion on the changes to the town’s health benefits policies to continue at the next Town Board meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 21.