January 28 2016

Town Meeting Discusses Health Insurance for Elected Officials, Selectmen to Take Up Issue Again

By: Rich Hosford

Should non-full time elected officials in town be allowed to enroll in municipal health insurance programs? 

That was a question before Town Meeting on Monday and while ultimately the legislative body did not vote on the issue due to the way the warrant article was crafted, there was discussion and the topic will be on an upcoming Board of Selectmen meeting. 

The article was a general bylaw article to request the selectmen discontinue the practice, giving individuals currently on the plan two years to make other arrangements. The article was submitted by Town Meeting Member Patricia Angelo, Precinct 5. 


Angelo said Town Meeting voted on a resolution similar to this article before but nothing had happened. In the meantime, she argued, the cost of providing the programs for the 12 elected officials who currently take it has risen. She said the estimated cost for 2016 is $176,998. 


Town Meeting Member Steve Stamm said he agreed the practice should end and said that two-thirds of communities in the state have either stopped it or are in the process of doing so. He also said that because Town Meeting recently voted on a similar issue he didn’t see why members should vote on it again. 


In the end the vote was to postpone the article indefinitely, partly because many agreed it read more like a resolution than a bylaw change. 


However, one person sympathetic to the cause heard what Town Meeting members had to say. Board of Selectmen Chair Mike Runyan, who had argued in August of 2015 that the board vote to stop the practice, said it would be back on the selectmen agenda in February. 


“I’m taking one more bite at the apple,” he said, noting that this will be the third time he has brought it up. The last time there was no consensus among the board and no vote was taken. He said that won't happen this time. 


"No more postponements, I’m going to insist on a vote," he said. 


Runyan said his plan differs from Angelo’s suggestion because he is in favor of allowing those who currently receive health insurance to continue to do so indefinitely. He said he just wants to stop new people from getting in the program. 


He said the funds would be better used put towards town projects, though he did say that perhaps an increase in the stipend elected officials receive would be in order to compensate them for the long hours they put in. The stipend for elected officials has not been increased in decades. 


Even if the board does vote to stop providing health insurance for elected officials, it won’t affect everyone. Any official who is full time, like the town clerk for example, or any officials who can document they regularly spend more than 20 hours per week, can by Massachusetts law apply for health insurance benefits. 

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