Potsdam Village needs to adjust insurance
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 11:14 am

To the Editor:

Comments presented to the Potsdam Village Board, February 7, 2011:

The beginnings of the budgeting process for the coming year are underway and union contract negotiations will be, too, so this is a good time to give very serious thought to the cost and conditions of providing health benefits to the Village Board and to Village employees.

I doubt that anyone will argue about the importance of health care, and we can probably all tell stories about problems faced by those we know who do not have it. The issue is not this, but how much it costs us taxpayers. The cost for the current year for a non-Teamster family health insurance plan is a bit over $19,500; for Teamster coverage there is a flat fee of a bit over $14,200. Those employees hired after June 1, 2002 pay 5% of the cost of their insurance, while those hired before that pay nothing for either their individual or family health coverage. Back in the day when fully-paid health insurance was relatively cheap, it may have been good to offer it fully-paid to employees. Low cost health insurance is definitely no longer the case.

14.7% of the 2011 General Fund is budgeted for Health Insurance, including Pharmacy and Dental. This is a very large number of very real dollars to taxpayers. How many of us get health insurance for our families fully-paid, or even with a contribution of only 5%? I seriously question the Village continuing to do just that. It seems to me that, at a minimum, everyone should pay a portion of the cost of family health insurance coverage. I have a December 2009 list of a number of area employers and the employee contributions to health insurance. A few do fully pay for the individual’s health plan, but none has 0% contribution to family coverage. One group has a sliding scale employee contribution of 5% to 10% of the cost; the others range from a 7.5% contribution to 100% for family coverage. No one gets it free, and very, very few pay as little as 5%.

I know that many of you are not going to like this, but I also would like to see the Village Board no longer receive the option of health insurance, or at least pay a great deal more money for it. I realize this could cause problems for some of you, and I understand that when the issue of changing health benefits for the Board and Mayor came up in the past, it was defeated 3-2. I know it’s hard to give up something you have and something very important to you. Again, when this was first offered as a perk, I don’t know how many years ago, the cost was not a big problem. It is now. The cost of your health insurance is more than your salary. And please keep in mind that many in the community are surprised to find that health insurance is offered to the Village Board at all. I know it’s hard, and I know it would be a shocking change to your families if you continue to serve on the Village Board and no longer have it, but I still urge that it not continue. If this is unacceptable, I would like to see each of you pay a much greater contribution to the cost than even the 5% currently paid by Village employees hired after June 1, 2002, no matter when you were first elected. And if that is unacceptable, I want each of you to pay at least the maximum contribution paid by any Village employee. As for the distinction you are currently making about whether or not you have been “employed” by the Village before or after 2002, while you may certainly have experience you bring to the Board through re-election and it is certainly legitimate to speak of how long you have served on the Board, I see each election as a reset. I do not see you as employees, or with having starting dates at the time of your initial election. I see being a Board Member or Mayor as “serving” the Village rather than “being employed by” the Village, and see your “technical” years of service as having started at the last election.

As you put together a budget for 2012, and as you work to negotiate new contracts, I hope you will give serious consideration to higher employee contributions to their health care as an item of major importance. There is a lot of money involved here. A 5% employee contribution from everyone would be a place to start. It would be better if it were 20%, but I understand that would be unrealistic at this time. However, I do not believe that 5% is unrealistic for the present. I also strongly urge a change in the policy for health insurance for the Board and Mayor. Thank you very much.

Eleanor Hopke