The elephant in the … playground?

Chilmark selectmen won’t budge on increasing playground budget.

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The Chilmark board of selectmen last night vetoed a request to swap out a smaller version of a children’s circular ride called “The Elephant” for a larger one to be placed in the funded and planned Chilmark playground upgrade.

The town approved $70,000 in funds at annual town meeting for the project to supplement fundraising by parent-teacher organizations for the $100,000 project. The PTO continued their fundraising efforts, and say they’ve now raised enough new cash to replace the $18,000 elephant with a $30,000 model.

“We went to a lot of effort to get the money for this project, and I’m personally uncomfortable expanding it. [The current plan] is what they asked for, and they have it,” chairman Jim Malkin said. Selectmen Bill Rossi and Warren Doty concurred.

“These projects are harder than they look. Let’s stick with the plan,” Malkin said.

While town administrator Tim Carroll lobbied discreetly for the new beast, that chapter is closed.

 

No deal on health plan

The board is pushing back on a plan by the town of Oak Bluffs to provide a financial incentive to employees moving from lower-cost individual health plans to higher-cost family health plans available to their family members in other Island towns.

Reportedly Oak Bluffs is offering $1,000 to $2,000 cash bonuses to employees who make the switch to family plans in other towns.

The effect of such moves would transfer health costs from Oak Bluffs budgets to other towns, selectmen argued, before authorizing a letter to be sent to Oak Bluffs expressing their dissatisfaction.

Their decision came after town treasurer Melanie Becker estimated the cost of health cost transfers could add more than $106,000 to Chilmark health insurance costs, more than $40,000 in FY 2019, and an additional $65,000 going forward if all eligible employees made the switch.

“The letter will state our disagreement with that policy, that we will not adopt financial incentives to motivate employees to switch and that [the Oak Bluffs strategy] is not in the best interests of the Island community as a whole,” Malkin said. He proposed as an equitable solution that a memorandum of understanding be executed among Island towns to share costs equally in the case where two employees work in different towns.

The letter comes as a first response after the Chilmark board of selectmen looked at their options in light of the Oak Bluffs plan. “It is what it is. There isn’t much we can do about it,” Rossi said, agreeing with Malkin’s position that “we are not going to get involved in some kind of nuclear arms race with higher incentives [offered to Chilmark employees],” in retaliation for the Oak Bluffs policy.

Carroll noted that May is open enrollment month for choosing health plans, which means towns would have to act quickly to enact a memorandum of understanding to share costs equally.

All municipal employees are covered by plans offered by the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, which offers a variety of cost-coverage options. Total monthly premiums range from $852 to $1,121 for individual plans, and between $2,279 and $2,808 monthly for family plans. Towns pay 75 percent of monthly premiums, and employees pay 25 percent.

In other business, selectmen agreed to establish a seven-member committee to oversee planning of an affordable housing project at Peaked Hill Pastures. They envision committee membership to include town planners, one selectman, and community members. “This may be our last bite at the apple in terms of large space available for housing, so we want to get it right.” he said.

Selectmen also dealt with a number of summer-season and harbor-related topics in advance of the summer season, including a plan to replace Dennis Jason as Chilmark harbormaster after 19 years at the helm. He will retire on June 30, 2019.

Selectmen agreed to begin an in-depth search process “just as we do for police chief and other important town jobs,” Malkin said. Selectmen will advertise the job, interview candidates, and reinterview the final candidates in public meetings. Their goal is to have the new harbormaster in place by April of next year, affording the new harbormaster a period to work with Jason and familiarize him or herself with budgets and policies.