Chilmark selectmen consider rental, health insurance costs


Chilmark selectmen on Tuesday, discussed a possible spike in health care costs for town employees, approved maximum rents for the Middle Line Road project, and reviewed plans to repair the damaged wave wall at the pier in Menemsha.

Town treasurer Melanie Becker warned of changes in health insurance costs for town employees on the horizon. Ms. Becker said the changes are part of the new municipal health care reform legislation.

The new law is intended to make it easier for towns to bargain health insurance changes with unions and make it easier for towns to move employees to the state health insurance plan, run by the Group Insurance Commission (GIC).

Ms. Becker said she attended a meeting on the Vineyard this week of the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, a joint purchase group organized in 1987. She said all municipal officials who attended the meeting favored the changes.

Ms. Becker said the benefits won’t change, but the costs will. The GIC will likely have a lower monthly premium but higher copays. If an employee doesn’t use much health care, it may save them because of lower premiums.

Municipalities will also save an estimated 13 percent on health care costs, she said.

But if an employee uses health care often, the higher deductibles and co-pays will out-weight the premium savings. She said an employee who uses health care often could be looking at an increase of 100 to 150 percent.

Selectman Warran Doty questioned shifting more of the cost of health care onto employees.

“The group is deciding the people of Martha’s Vineyard — mostly middle class folks, some who aren’t doing so great — will get hit with additional costs because of this thing,” he said.

Selectmen Tuesday met with Todd Christy, Chilmark representative to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, who asked whether selectmen wanted to set maximum rents for each unit in the Middle Line Road housing project.

Selectmen had already approved a range of sliding scale of rents for the Middle Line Road earlier this year, based on a person’s average median income (AMI). Mr. Christy said it might be helpful to cap the scale at 100 percent AMI.

“Looking at a 3 BR at 110 percent [AMI] the rent is $1,850; that is pretty above market . . . that’s a lot of money. You are starting to get into a rental that is like a pretty decent mortgage payment,” he said.

Mr. Christy said the AMI figures also don’t take into account other variables such as whether someone makes a student loan or car payment. “Even if they qualify, they may not be able to pay the rent,” he said.

Mr. Doty noted the discrepancy in rents for people at different income levels. According to a rent sheet from DCRHA, someone at 65 percent AMI would pay $811 for a one bedroom; someone at 110 percent would pay $1,561.

“It just seems like a huge difference,” he said.

Selectmen voted 2-0 to set the rents based on a formula that caps at 100 percent AMI; selectman Jonathan Mayhew abstained.

Selectmen also met with engineer Kent Healy, who presented preliminary plans to repair two sections of wave wall on the West Dock that were torn loose during Hurricane Irene earlier this month.

The cost of the new sheets and installation is expected to be about $5,000. “It’s not a big job,” Mr. Healy said.