NORTH ADAMS -- City Councilors voted unanimously to accept the state Municipal Health Care reform law during Tuesday night's meeting, despite a plea from the North Adams Teachers Association's newly elected president to hold off on a decision for another few weeks.
"I've found there to be a great working relationship between the mayor, the superintendent and the union," NATA President Marie Kelly-Whitney said. "Passing this now will make us feel very disrespected."
Under the Municipal Health Care Reform law, Chapter 32B, sections 21-23 of the state general laws, the city has the option to modify employee health insurance plans or to move employees into the state's Group Insurance Commission (GIC), as long as it can prove a 5 percent cost savings. The law also states that any health care plans offered once the legislation is enacted cannot exceed the rates and deductibles of the state's most subscribed GIC plan.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright explained that he wasn't looking to enact the legislation unless it was necessary.
"I am coming to the council seeking the adoption of the legislation, so that if I cannot come to an agreement with the city's Public Employee Committee (PEC), I can begin the legislative process, which has very specific timelines, to assure that we with have insurance solutions in place for the GIC open enrollment process and the fiscal 2014 budget," he said.
He said negotiations with the PEC began in October and since that time, the city has been working with TrueNorth Financial to cull together plans that meet the requirements of the reform legislation.
"Right now we have six options, which I will present to the PEC on Thursday," the mayor said. "My intent is to settle the insurance reform issues with out PEC outside of the legislation as many communities have done so far. Each plan has varying degrees of savings. While keeping in mind that the city needs to save money, it is also very important that we offer our employees a good quality health insurance."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer added the law was created not only to create savings for municipalities, but to put municipal employees on an "even keel" with state and public employees who have health insurance.
"Health care is a big chunk of any payroll," she said. "It can be seen as way of bringing things into line, but it also is intended as a way for the state to make health insurance companies offer more competitive rates."
According to a press release issued by Gov. Deval Patrick's office in July for the law's one-year anniversary, it had been accepted by 127 municipalities, with 77 completing the process and 55 others using it as leverage during negotiations.
"I'm only asking for this legislation to be put in place because it has specific timelines and notifications," Alcombright said.
During public comment, Sue Gilman, a teacher at Brayton Elementary School, said that the city's teachers were wary of the law being accepted because it sent a message that "in the end, it might not matter" what happens during the negotiations process.
In other business, the council also unanimously approved an appropriation of $51,570 from the overlay surplus fund to pay for the first third of the city's required property re-evaluations, which will take place over the next three years. The contract, which was awarded to Mayflower, has a total price tag of $154,710.
Also approved was an appropriation of $8,600 for the purchase of the rear of 177 River St. from M. Callhan Inc. Alcombright said that the city erroneously built upon the land when it erected the Houghton Street playground several years ago.
He said the city is currently researching how the encroachment on the land happened during the building process and would look to see it if could recoup costs should responsibility for the mistake fall to an independent surveyor or the project's architect.
A motion to appoint Public Works Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau to fill the unexpired term of Hoosac Water Quality District Commissioner Ronald Boucher was tabled until the council's next meeting to allow time to determine if the appointment falls to the mayor or is made by the council.
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