At their previous meeting, board members discussed moving employees’ Martin Luther King holiday to another day. The paid holiday was approved at the last Town Meeting. Some board members expressed concern that the winter holiday could result in excessive holiday overtime pay in the event that employees are called in for a snowstorm or other winter emergency. Former selectboard members William Buswell and Adam Levine argued against the plan.
This week, board member Tom Baltrus reiterated the concern. “I’m still concerned about a fifth exposure to callout in the event of a severe snowstorm,” he said, referring to employees’ five winter holidays, including Martin Luther King Day. Baltrus offered a motion to make Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day, or both, floating holidays. “I don’t want to be misconstrued by selecting Martin Luther King Day. I have a feeling we ought to protect ourselves against an extreme emergency.”
Terk pointed out that employees already have two floating holidays. “Are employees going to have four floating holidays?” he asked.
Police chief Randy Johnson said four floating holidays could create a staffing problem. “It gives someone the opportunity to take all four at once, almost an extra week of vacation, and an office might be closed.”
Johnson said Martin Luther King Day doesn’t typically require extra police staffing. “The holiday falls on a Monday, so we don’t double (the number of officers on duty). Sunday we have a lot of people in the valley and might double up, but on Monday everyone is headed out of town.”
Buswell took issue with the discussion. “Tom, with all due respect, this is not a monetary issue.”
“It is,” Baltrus insisted.
“This is an issue of right and wrong and correcting the past,” Buswell continued. “For 37 years there have been four winter holidays and in that 37 years did we have to call in the highway department? This is not an issue that has to be pounded to death. It’s right to honor Martin Luther King. Come into the 21st century.”
Baltrus changed his motion to make only Presidents Day a floating holiday. He reiterated that the issue was fiscal risk to taxpayers. “I’m not disrespecting Martin Luther King, employees or you, Buzzy. I’m just trying to do something to protect taxpayers.”
Buswell said it was an issue of how the town treats employees and “being an equal opportunity employer.” Levine said the floating holiday would be a mistake, leaving offices only partially staffed on holidays, and failing to save any money in the event of a storm or emergency. “What if only one person wants to come to work? How can you tell people whether this office is open or closed?”
Board member Vicki Capitani moved the question, and Baltrus’ motion to make Presidents’ Day a floating holiday failed.
The board also took up the question of funding employees’ health reimbursement accounts, or HRAs. Interim administrator Jeanette Eckert told board members there were three choices of HRA payment method: plan A, in which the HRA would pay for expenses first; plan B, in which employees would pay out of pocket and get reimbursed; and plan C, which is similar to plan A, but employees would get a debit card with which to pay for prescriptions. Eckert said the board could also opt to allow employees to use the debit card to pay for other non-covered health expenses, such dental and eye care.
“Can someone abuse the debit card?” asked Capitani. “Say they use it to purchase things that aren’t prescriptions. This is a pool of town money – how do we reconcile that?”
Terk found a customer service number for the company, and called in. The customer service representative, on speaker phone, told board members that the debit card was a “smart card” that would only work for expenses authorized under the plan. “It sounds like plan C (the debit card) would be the best way for our employees to pay,” said Capitani.
Terk said the board wouldn’t authorize the card to be used for expenses such as dental care and eye glasses, which aren’t covered under the employee health plan. Zoning administrator Dave Cherchio objected. “I’d like to encourage the board to allow for (qualified nonplan) expenses to be reimbursed under the HRA,” he said. “They were reimbursable under the HSA (employees’ current health savings account). So there’s a track record where these expenses have been, in the past, reimbursed. It would help people like me with poor vision and expensive glasses.”
Terk said the HRA was different than the HSA. Under the HSA, employees received a certain amount of money in the account each year. If they spent money on expenses such as dental care, it was still their responsibility to meet their medical deductible. If they used little money, employees kept what was left at the end of the year.
Under the HRA, any money that isn’t used remains the town’s – and can be used to fund HRA accounts the following year. “If we expand it to include (qualified nonplan) expenses, it has the potential to increase the town’s expense. There is additional potential cost to the taxpayers. One of the reasons we went with (an HSA) was to maximize the benefit to employees while minimizing the cost to taxpayers.” Terk and Cherchio debated the point further, reiterating what they had already said.
Capitani said the town was already facing a substantial increase in health care costs under the new system. “Right now the cost (for employee health care) is $291,000 per year. Next year, if all of the HRA money is spent, the cost will be $432,000. That is a gigantic increase, and it’s why we decided to go with the HRA in hopes that some of the money won’t be expended. We’re trying to limit our exposure.”
Terk offered a motion to pay the expenses Cherchio requested, but it failed unanimously. Board members approved the plan with the debit card, to be used only for prescriptions.