Edgartown selectmen balk at insurance incentives
Edgartown selectmen and the town administrator balked Monday at strong pleas from members of the financial advisory committee (FinCom)and school employees to offer all town employees an incentive payment to switch to less expensive health insurance plans.
The new three-year contract for all Island public schoolteachers includes incentive payments for those who switch from the most expensive Blue Cross Blue Shield indemnity plan to less expensive plans. Chilmark selectmen approved such payments to their town employees last week.
Chilmark will pay $500 to individuals and $1,000 to families who switch plans, similar to the teachers' contract amounts. Chilmark's payments will come from the employee benefit health insurance line in the next fiscal year budget.
Donna Lowell-Bettencourt of the Edgartown FinCom stressed Monday to the selectmen the savings to the town of $3,000 per family, including the $1,000 payment in the first year that an employee switches plans. The second year savings would total the full $4,000, she said.
"It doesn't make sense to pit one group against another group," she said. "It could be offered to everybody.... I just don't see why we wouldn't support it."
Selectman chairman Margaret Serpa, however, said the proposal was fine for the school system, but it was too late to offer it to town employees because the open enrollment period to change insurance ends this month.
"It bothers me a little that a lot of people switched and didn't get the incentive," she said. She also said the proposal should go through the town's budget process.
Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt pointed out that the medical plan costs for the teachers come out of the town budget, not the school system budget.
Town administrator Pamela Dolby added that the town has no process for incentive pay. She said the personnel board would have to set up a process and the voters would have to approve any proposal.
Ms. Dolby also pointed out that many employees have already switched plans, including herself, and added that she would not take an incentive payment if it were offered.
Fred Condon, also a FinCom member, said the committee had discussed the issue at length. "We should have a valid reason" for not offering the incentive, he told the selectmen. "It seems we could find a way."
He said the town would save up to $422,000 if all employees switched insurance plans. He suggested that the 30 employees who had already switched could be included in the incentive payments.
Sandy Joyce of the Martha's Vineyard Educators Association said the association's strategic planning committee had studied incentive programs and found they were not unusual in town governments. "I understand philosophically why you don't support the incentive," she told the selectmen, but added, "In the longer-term, it's a real savings."
Anne Fligor, acting principal at the Edgartown School, asked the selectmen to consider bringing the issue to the taxpayers. "As a taxpayer, I would like to be able to vote," she said.
Despite the various pleas, Ms. Serpa was still adamant, saying finally, "We're not comfortable with these incentives."
Selectman Michael Donaroma left the door more open to the idea, saying, "We need to keep working on this and go through the budget process. It sounds like good ideas and good numbers; we just need to put it all together."
In other business, the selectmen did reverse a previous decision not to hold a special town meeting to vote on the regional high school statutory assessment. Ms. Serpa said the selectmen would probably still recommend opposing the state's assessment formula, noting the need for four of the six Island towns to approve the formula in order for the school system to implement its budget for next year.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck said the town is looking into the legal questions regarding the regional agreement among the six towns.
The selectmen set a tentative special town meeting on the school issue for Thursday, June 28, at the Edgartown School. Backup dates are June 26 and June 27.
Members of the Chappaquiddick ferry committee also asked the selectmen for clarification on the committee's charge regarding the town's possible purchase of the ferry. The selectmen gave them the go-ahead to do whatever they need to come to a conclusion on the matter. The committee has met only once and did not comment on its discussion so far.