The White Plains Examiner

White Plains Council Ends Retired Employees Insurance Contribution

We are part of The Trust Project
Retired White Plains firefighters and other residents in attendance at the Dec. 23 Common Council special meeting.

Following more than a year of impassioned pleas, a group of retired White Plains firefighters will no longer be required to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.

The White Plains Common Council voted to no longer require any of its retired employees to pay part of their health insurance during a special meeting on Dec. 23.

However, those firefighters will be required to pay for past due health insurance payments not made during a legal dispute with the city. Those former employees will need to make the back insurance payments within five years.

For the past several months retired firefighters have attended the Citizens to be Heard portion of Common Council meetings to seek the policy change. Due to a difficult financial period, the city required firefighters to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums beginning in 2010. In 2015 the Common Council restored the benefit to active firefighters but not to retirees of the fire department.

Ed Lobermann, a retired firefighter, has been speaking on behalf of himself and about 100 other retired firefighters at several meetings.

The issue of the health insurance payment requirement was debated among the Council members last week. “We have two ordinances here before us tonight,” Councilman John Kirkpatrick said. The first oridiance, which was introduced in November, “was not equitable with regard to existing employees and other retirees,” he said. Other employees were also required to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums in 2010 when the city was facing financial difficulties, which included the elimination of 120 city positions, he said. Kirkpatrick said he was not on the Council when the decision was made to require city employees and retirees to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums and he did support the concept.

“I agree with the retired firefighters that this was not an equitable situation,” Kirkpatrick said. In November, Kirkpatrick had said if the retired firefighters were no longer required to pay 15 percent of their premiums the other city retirees should receive the same treatment. But to do so would have meant “a significant impact on our budget and therefore our taxes,” Kirkpatrick recalled saying.

Research from city departments has shown there is a way to end the requirement that retired firefighters no longer pay for part of their health insurance premiums without burdening the city financially, Kirkpatrick explained.

Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona said the issue had been before the Common Council for more than a year and she was not provided information from the city for many months about how much it would cost to have no retired firefighters pay for part of their health insurance. But Kirkpatrick received the information in one month, she said. There is “a lack of transparency,” she said. Had she had the information she would have supported ending the health insurance payments for all city employee retirees, Lecuona said.

Lecuona said retired firefighters facing financial hardship should not be required to pay past due health insurance payments.

Lecuona said she and Councilman Dennis Krolian had been working on legislation for months regarding the retired firefighters, but did not learn until a few days previous to the special meeting about the second piece of legislation that would eliminate the current premiums payment but would require the retirees to make past due premium payments. “There is no transparency and no teamwork whatsoever,” she said. All retirees who will no longer be required to keep making health insurance payments should thank the retired firefighters who have worked on the issue for many months, she said.

The vote on the first resolution, which would have ended the health insurance payment requirement for the retired firefighters without requiring them to make past due payments was defeated 5-2 with only Lecuona and Krolian voting in favor of it.

The Council did vote unanimously on a second resolution that will end the practice of requiring retired city employees to pay a portion of their health insurance going forward, but will require retired firefighters to make past due payments for their health insurance. At the request of Council President John Martin, the period to make the repayments was extended to five years, which was a two year increase from the original legislation’s deadline.

Because the retirees are no longer represented by a union they have “no real power,” Martin said. He thanked the retirees for their efforts and the work of the city’s legal counsel John Callahan and city staff on the second piece of legislation. “This is the most fair and equitable solution that we could reach,” Martin said. The legislation will not lead to a “budget hole.” It is a solution to an almost decade long dispute which has been in and out of court.

Councilman Justin Brasch said retired firefighters were treated differently than other city employees. “We’re trying to fix that injustice and do it for all,” he said. “We have figured out how to do this in a fiscally responsible way.”

Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson said the city had tough decisions to make in 2010, with lawsuits from city employees about the requirement at the time to pay a portion of their health insurance. Hunt-Robinson said she wanted to make the change for all city employees. She met with Lobermann and other retired firefighters in the fall and she told them the change could not be implemented until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2020 and budgetary offsets were needed to pay for the change, she said. “This is how government is supposed to work,” she said.

“The situation with the law gives you a right to do something,” Krolian said. But there are often ethical, moral and other issues. “Go above and beyond” the law, he said. The retired firefighters made good arguments about the inequity of having them pay a part of their health insurance in retirement, Krolian said.

Mayor Tom Roach said a court ruling supported the city’s requirement in 2010 that its employees should pay a portion of their health insurance. “However, we’re in a better fiscal situation today” Roach said. “What we do for one, we do for all.”

Roach said the original proposal from Krolian and Lecuona, which would have allowed the retired firefighters to not pay past due health insurance payments would not have been fair to the retirees who had made payments and would not have been reimbursed. Paying back those who had made payments would have been expensive for the city, Roach said.

In an interview following the Council’s actions Lobermann said he was pleased with what the councilpersons did. “I’m glad it’s come to a conclusion. I think it’s as fair as it can be under the circumstances and I compliment the Council in recognizing a wrong that was done and correcting it,” he said.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.