2015-10-21 / Front Page

Retirees confront lawmakers over health insurance contributions

Eric Gross

There was standing room only on Monday evening at the historic Putnam Courthouse when more than 150 men and women packed the chamber as the county Legislature conducted a public hearing on the 2016 Putnam budget.

The overwhelming majority of those in attendance expressed anger over a proposed dramatic increase in retired county employee health insurance premiums that, if approved, will increase the retiree’s contribution of anywhere from 8 percent to 30 percent depending on his or her pension. Some 380 current and former employees are being affected.

Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker said the county was currently paying $4.7 million per year for the county’s 377 retirees’ benefits: “We represent 100,000 residents of Putnam County and in order to balance the budget, many people and positions have been diminished. The proposal was put forward to ensure that our employees retain benefits in the future. The budget responsibly addresses all of the needs of Putnam County.”

CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Glen Blackman charged that the county’s administration “never discussed health insurance with the CSEA. Let’s return this to the executive branch in order for us to come up with a fair solution.”

Jane Gorman, president of the Putnam CSEA Local 40, also called on the legislators to “work with us. This should have been discussed ahead of time. Instead we are being stabbed in the back by having this proposal rammed down our throats. Matters can be made better by bringing in revenue and reducing the cost of health insurance. All they had to do was ask. The overflow crowd here is passionate about their jobs. They have chosen a career in public service. It’s not about the money. We are here for the right reasons—the people of Putnam County.”

During the 100 minute hearing, speaker after speaker addressed the nine member governing body, whose members remained silent.

Former Legislator Mike Semo, who represented the Patterson area for 23 consecutive years, reminded the current lawmakers that  “county employees seek long-term benefits. Don’t punish these people. They dedicated their lives to our county.”

Retired Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher York called the proposed plan “an upside down policy. You are punishing workers for giving more of their time to the people of our county. This is nothing more than a redistribution of wealth and it is morally wrong.”

Patricia Perez told the emotionally charged audience: “We understand that expenses must be paid but to place them on the backs of retirees is wrong. Is Tilly Foster more important than your workforce?”

Pat Gorman alleged that the proposal was “attacking the people who can’t fight back. This is not good government or democracy.”

Long-time retirees also addressed the hearing. A 33-year veteran charged “we are being bullied,” while a retiree with 38 years of county employment under her belt reminded the legislators that “we are not adversaries.”

Former Office for the Aging Director Bill Huestis also pleaded with the legislators to “rethink this. I may be a woodchuck but this was rushed to judgment. Many questions still exist. Remember, we are Putnam County strong.”

The current plan on the table that is to be voted upon tonight, Wednesday, called for retirees earning up to $9,999 a year on their pension to pay 8 percent while those with a pension ranging between $10,000 and $19,999 will be asked to contribute 10 percent.

Those with a pension between $20,000 and $29,999 will contribute 13 percent. Retirees with a pension of from $30,000 to $30,999 will be paying an 18 percent contribution while those earning between $40,000 and $64,999 on their pension will be required to pay 25 percent. The top pension earners of $65,000 or more will pay the county 30 percent for health insurance premiums.

Following the meeting, Personnel Director Paul Eldridge said health insurance rates have soared in recent years: “When I came here several decades ago, the family plan cost $66 per month. Today that same plan is $2,000 per month.  Compared to the cost of living, the cost of health insurance has increased more dramatically.”

But Legislator Dini LoBue of Mahopac, a constant critic of the administration, charged the request for increases was “wrong. It is difficult to take away something that someone has. This will result in a great hardship.”

Legislature Chairman Carl Albano said “everyone has to deal with rising costs. Something has to give.” 

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