DOVER- Employee policy issues occupied selectboard members at Tuesday evening’s selectboard meeting.
Board members reacted to an announcement by Vermont Health Connect that small businesses - including municipalities – will not be able to pay for their employees’ health care through Vermont Health Connect because of ongoing issues with the payment process. Instead, the state has extended current plans indefinitely, until the payment issues are resolved. “Health Connect has no idea how long it will take – a month, three months – but they hope to have it resolved by the end of the first quarter,” said interim administrator Jeanette Eckert.
The extension is mandatory, but board members expressed concern about how payments to employees’ health savings accounts (HSAs) would be handled, and whether the HSAs could be converted to the health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) that the board planned to institute with the switch to Vermont Health Connect. “Blue Cross says it’s up to us how we do that,” said Eckert, “whether we fund it on a month-by-month basis or more.”
Board member Vicki Capitani noted that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and Vermont Chamber of Commerce were pushing the state to extend current plans for a more definite period of one year, but Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration appeared to be resisting the calls.
“We need some kind of guidance,” said board member Joe Mahon. “I don’t think we should fund 100% of the HSAs, because we don’t know what’s going to be the health plan for the year,” said selectboard chair Randy Terk. “We should fund it month-to-month.”
HSA funds are used for medical expenses, and Dover annually funds an amount equal to employees’ insurance deductible. If the contributions were to be pro-rated, board members noted, employees who met their annual deductible in the first months of the year could have to pay a substantial amount out-of-pocket. If the HSA were funded with the entire deductible amount and the plans were switched midyear, board members were concerned the town might be expected to fund HRAs – essentially funding full deductibles for two plans.
The board also discussed the town’s employee policy. During the discussion, Terk raised concerns about the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Last year, the board voted to add the holiday to the list of paid holidays the town offers employees. Terk said he wasn’t concerned about town employees having another day off. “I’m concerned about a holiday on what may be the busiest ski weekend of ski season,” he said.
“Point of order!” interrupted former board member William “Buzzy” Buswell. “It was not this board that voted that holiday in, it was a previous board of selectmen. To follow the procedure correctly, it should be warned that the present board of selectmen want to change a decision made by a previous board, which was budgeted and approved at Town Meeting.”
Terk declined to halt the discussion until it could be warned. “The original motion wasn’t warned, so I don’t see why this discussion should be warned. I take your point, but we’re going to continue with this discussion tonight.” Buswell said it would be a “disgrace” not to recognize the holiday, and another former board member agreed with him. “It wasn’t about giving employees more holidays,” said Adam Levine, “it was about recognizing a federal holiday and coming into the new millennium.”
But police chief Randy Johnson said some employees have told him that, given a choice, they’d rather have a holiday during warmer months, such as Bennington Battle Day. He noted that, in 2010, there were 35 Vermont towns that offered Martin Luther King Jr. Day as one of their paid holidays, and 27 that offered Bennington Battle Day.
Terk said his concern was about costs above and beyond holiday pay. If there were a snowstorm or other emergency situation on the busy holiday, pay for highway and police departments could add up to thousands of dollars. According to the board, those called out would receive their holiday rate in addition to time-and-a-half for any hours they worked. He suggested it could cost as much as $4,000.
Johnson advised the board that, if they were to eliminate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they shouldn’t eliminate the holiday altogether. “There have been things given to the employees then taken away in the past,” he said. “That sends a bad message.”
Capitani said she had no problem with employees having 11 holidays per year. “But giving it in the middle of the ski season on a holiday weekend is not fiscally responsible.”
Buswell disagreed. “We already have Christmas, New Year’s Day, Presidents Day – how many times have we had to call employees in? I can only think of one, so that’s not a great argument. This was something given to our employees, and now we’re going to be a bunch of Indian-givers and take it away.”
Terk said the town could create a “floating” holiday that employees could take anytime. “We could put it on the agenda for the 17th and ask employees their opinion,” he suggested.
“If you’re going to invite every employee in for their opinion, you should invite every taxpayer in,” said Levine.
With no motion on the table, the discussion ended without any decision made.