H’town phases out health benefits for board members

SARANAC LAKE – Most current and all future members of the Harrietstown town board will no longer be able to get free health insurance from the town.

The town board voted 4-0 Thursday to approve a resolution that requires new and current town board members, including the town supervisor, who enroll in or want to continue enrollment in a town health insurance plan to pay the full cost of the premium.

The resolution includes one exception. The town will continue to pay the full cost of the premium for any board member who’s been on the town’s health insurance plan for the past 10 years, since at least November 2003, but only until that person’s tenure on the board ends.

The exception will allow Councilman Ron Keough, one of the two current board members who get their health insurance from the town, to stay on its policy and get free coverage. Keough has been on the board, in his most recent stint, since 2001. He was re-elected to another four-year term Tuesday. His town-sponsored health insurance costs about $11,000, according to town Budget Officer Mike Kilroy.

Councilman Barry DeFuria, who gets a $7,000 town-sponsored health insurance policy, opted not to seek re-election, so he’ll lose that coverage when his term is up at the end of the year. DeFuria was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

The resolution also rescinds the town’s policy of providing a $1,200 stipend or buyout to town board members who choose not to enroll in the town’s health insurance coverage. Councilwoman Nichole Meyette is the only board member who got that stipend this year. Supervisor Bob Bevilacqua got it when he was a councilman for four years, but he hasn’t taken it since he was elected to the town’s top post last year.

Keough said the amount of money the town was providing in health insurance benefits to board members, including himself, is a small percentage of the town’s budget.

Why get rid of it? The resolution says it was prompted by the “interests of fiscal prudence.”

“It’s kind of the way things are going,” Keough said. “One of the concerns I have is, idealistically, everybody should run for public office for altruistic reasons.”

“It’s important that people are running for town council because they have a genuine interest in the good of the town, not what the town can do for them,” added Councilman Jim Murnane. “It is a cost-cutting measure, and we’re looking for nickels and dimes in every line item of the budget.

“But most important to me is the way the town health insurance is structured for our employees is not sustainable, and we need to get to a point where our employees are contributing a much greater or any percentage of their health insurance cost. How do we get there when the board members are getting it for free?”

Kilroy told the Enterprise that the change will save the town at least $27,000 next year. He had budgeted that amount to potentially provide health insurance for the two new board members elected on Tuesday, Ed Goetz and Howard Riley, but now they won’t be able to get free insurance from the town based on the board’s decision Thursday night.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.