Resolved to Resolutions
Some of the numbers floating about at tonight’s Tiverton Town Council meeting left me unable to suppress my guffaws.
The town pays, if I heard right, $13,000 per family healthcare plan. Indeed, according to the outgoing town administrator, Glenn Steckman, the reason he included a healthcare buyback in the contract that he put forward for an assistant to his office was to offer some level of disincentive to take the program because it’s so top-notch fantastic.
As a resident of Tiverton who recently had to downgrade health insurance due to a change in employment circumstances, and who has been astounded at the additional, uncovered costs of a bottom-notch plan (with a child’s hairline fracture limiting the mid-winter oil order to half-full), I have to wonder why it is that town employees should have a healthcare benefit that is so wonderful that the municipality finds it advisable to pay them not to take it. I’ve heard the intention of discouraging double coverage for spouses, before, but this is an admission entirely new to my ear: benefits that are so golden as to dim all others, therefore requiring (essentially) a subsidy of spouses’ programs to bring them up to a parallel notch, so to speak.
What’s particularly upsetting about this dynamic is that it is absolutely clear that the town council intends to increase taxes to the maximum amount allowed by law. There’s no hope, here, as far as I can see, that my fixed rate mortgage won’t keep going up, owing to my variable rate tax bill.
It doesn’t help that the council’s discussion reminded me that town employees actually work 6.5-hour days, with the standard (again, if I heard right) being that overtime is paid after that. Councilor Brian Medeiros suggest that, in the future, the policy should be changed to require 40 hours of work before the salary increases by half, and I hope that he puts forward a resolution to make that official policy.
Councilor Don Bollin expressed some reservations about the provision in the fire chief’s just-approved three-year contract for 5% raises with up to 5% in potential merit pay, which has apparently been pretty standard among department heads, heretofore. According to Bollin, these are “numbers we used in the past when we weren’t under the pressure of caps.” Council President Louise Durfee assured the audience that she, for one, won’t be shy about approaching department heads, if finances require, to ask their cooperation in accepting, say, 4.2% as merit raises.
Ms. Durfee, as it happens, was also the lone vote against Medeiros’s resolution to discourage the introduction or increase of any bridge tolls in the surrounding area. Her reasoning was that, given the state’s financial difficulties, nothing should be taken off the table.
So I suggest that all future employment contracts be explicitly put on the table, via a town council resolution. Something of the following flavor:
Whereas some hard-working residents of Tiverton face the very real prospect of losing their houses this year, and whereas the various governments of Rhode Island can no longer afford to constitute the single most generous employer in the state, be it resolved that all future employment contracts with the Town of Tiverton will seek to provide salaries, benefits, and schedules more in line with those enjoyed by workers in the private sector.
I was never privy to the discussions, of course, but my understanding was that the high tech market research company with which I used to be an editor would attempt to project the upcoming year’s revenue, expenses, and so on and distribute raises based on the expected growth. The contract-only approach in Rhode Island — whether those contracts are individually or collectively bargained — are a bit like a defined-benefit retirement program in that they are promised regardless of future ability to pay. As Mr. Bollin noticed, problems loom if public employees are contracted to receive raises at a greater percentage than the town is allowed to apply to taxes.