WINCHESTER – Once again members of the finance committee have overwhelmingly recommended adverse action against an item at the town meeting which members supported.
This time, FinCom voted against Article 7, to add a new section to Chapter 2 of the Code of Articles establishing (or making permanent) a Pensioners’ Health Insurance Advisory Committee. Chair Megan Blackwell said the current composition of the committee (prior to the adoption of the article, the committee was an ad hoc committee of Town Meeting) “was not the best for offering impartial comments”. Instead, she suggested simply reaching out to retirees.
Speaking on behalf of the motion, Peter Cheimets said his committee “wanted to stick together”. The city assembly formed the committee following issues between the select council and city pensioners over insurance costs and how much pensioners would cover. Initially, the city covered 75%; however, the Select Board made a policy change eight years ago that forced retirees to share the costs equally with the city.
After forming the ad hoc Retiree Health Insurance Committee (led by Town Meeting), the two sides reached a more amicable agreement that the city would cover 70% of pre-2004 retirees.
On Monday, the committee sponsored a paper to make itself a standing committee. With 111 votes in favour, the city assembly accepted.
The missions of the committee are as follows:
• Ongoing communication with City retirees, informing them of proposed health insurance legislative changes at both the state and municipal levels; proposed changes to carriers, plan design, or contribution percentages for municipal plans; and programs that can mitigate or reduce the cost of retiree insurance.
• Ongoing communication with City officials including City Manager, Select Council, School Committee, Finance Committee, Staff Council, Public Employees Committee (PEC), Insurance Advisory Committee (IAC), the Moderator and the Municipal Assembly informing them of: potential opportunities for improving municipal insurance; and potential opportunities, based on best practices in other communities, to manage OPEB liabilities without unduly burdening employees or retirees.
• Ongoing communication with the City’s professional health insurance advisors, including actuaries and consultants, to understand: City health insurance options, OPEB liabilities, and future approaches to OPEB funding.
The (permanent) council will consist of 11 voting members, including one member from the select council, the school committee, the finance committee and the staff council; an active employee of the non-academic department, appointed by the Select Board; an active employee of the school service, appointed by the school committee; two retirees from the school service, appointed by the town leader; a retired non-school service employee, appointed by the city moderator; and two citizens, appointed by the moderator of the city.
The committee will also include two non-voting members: the municipal treasurer and the municipal comptroller. All such appointments must be made within 90 days of certification of the Spring Municipal Meeting by the Attorney General.
Members of the Select Council, School Committee, FinCom and Staff Council may sit for as long as they remain on said council or committee, with no specific term limit; however, all other members will serve a three-year term.
To ensure that the committee does not need to appoint or reappoint seven members at a time, the city moderator will initially appoint one resident for a one-year term and the other for a three-year term. Therefore, the active non-academic department employee will initially be appointed for a three-year term while the active academic department employee will receive a two-year term.
Additionally, the sole retired non-school department employee will initially receive a three-year term while one of the retired school department employees will receive a two-year term and the other will receive a one-year term.
As to who the committee will advise and what its authority will be, Cheimets said he couldn’t necessarily say who the committee would advise, only who it has advised in the past. Previously, they advised retirees but only received an 8-15% response rate, plus Select Board members. Cheimets believes the committee will serve as an intermediary between the select council and the unions.
As mentioned above, the committee helped broker a deal between the Select Board and employee unions several years ago when the city changed health care plans in a bid to save money. (which they might do again).
“We review plans a lot and release information,” Cheimets acknowledged, “but we don’t make political decisions.”
Town Meeting member Diab Jerius, to anyone who questions the need for the committee, said it exists to “make sure promises are kept”.