Democrats should stop saying no to 15% contribution plan

2/16/2010 4:16:39 PM

 

 

The following ran in The Journal News – Community View on February 13, 2010.

 

Submitted by County Legislators Jim Maisano, Gordon Burrows, Bernice Spreckman & John Testa

 

The Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators applaud the recent columns by the Editorial Board and Phil Reisman calling for immediate passage of County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposal for 400 nonunion county employees to start contributing 15 percent to the cost of their health-care benefits. We also appreciate that the board’s Democratic leadership was challenged for their delays and roadblocks on this important legislation.

 

We wish to emphasize that the Republican county legislators endorsed this proposal two weeks ago. We are ready to vote for this legislation immediately and are troubled by the board’s blatant delaying tactics.

 

Recent elections demonstrate that voters want real change from our elected leaders, and they want it quickly. This was the clear message when voters selected a new county executive last November. This message is coming from Democrats, Republicans and independents. People understand we are still confronting an economic crisis. Many of our constituents are struggling with unemployment and high taxes. They are looking for decisive action to address their concerns.

 

We had hoped the new county executive and new board leadership would finally spark legislative action to reform the Westchester County government. Yet, remarkably, in our first opportunity to come together in a bipartisan way by passing the 15 percent employee health-benefit contribution, saving more than $1 million per year in the county budget, our board has done nothing but create obstacles to its passage.

 

We are deeply concerned about our county’s financial situation. We face a possible $60 million shortfall in the 2011 county budget, which our board will review in only nine months. Immediate action must be taken to reduce spending and everything must be on the table. These cuts may be difficult, but we have no other choice. We can either cut spending or raise taxes. The priority for the Republican county legislators is to make aggressive spending cuts immediately to avoid a property tax increase in 2011.

 

We strongly support the proposal to have county employees contribute 15 percent of their health-care benefits. In most county governments and many municipalities across New York state, employees do contribute to the cost of their health care. In the private sector, it is a long established standard procedure. Only two weeks ago, Dutchess County voted to require employee contributions. In the City of White Plains, employees hired after April 1 will contribute, and in the City of New Rochelle, employees contribute 18 percent of their health-care benefits and have done so since the 1980s.

 

If this sounds like an important issue, it is — and it is too important to be a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. This reform will save $1 million and sends a message that business as usual is over. In the past 10 years, health-care plan costs for county employees have skyrocketed from $67 million to almost $150 million per year. The cost of a family plan is more than $22,000 and for a single plan nearly $8,000.

 

The impact of these costs on Westchester’s budget is devastating, and we cannot keep raising property taxes to balance the budget. Property taxes are already too high. The proposed legislation will save money, while making a bold statement that we are committed to reducing the cost of the county government.

 

Unfortunately, the county executive’s proposal has hit one snag after another. First it was watered down when the Democratic leadership offered an alternative plan that covered relatively few employees. Then the proposed legislation was sidetracked to a newly created committee. In government, the quickest way to take the steam out of any proposal is to bury it in a "committee" — or in this case, three committees.

 

These delaying tactics are nothing more than different ways of saying no: no to a newly elected county executive, no to an eminently fair and fiscally responsible plan, and no to the taxpayers of Westchester. Frankly, if the Democratic legislators cannot even support this $1 million cut to the budget, how will they ever make the more difficult cuts to deal with the upcoming $60 million shortfall?

 

Elected officials everywhere need to start listening to their constituents. We must reform government, find new ways to provide services more efficiently and cost-effectively, and reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending.

 

Let’s show we heard this message, stop the delay and come together for a unanimous vote on this proposal. We are ready to vote for the 15 percent medical benefit contribution immediately. Who is with us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westchester Lawmakers Consider Call For Moratorium On Con Ed Tree Cutting Program

 

What:

 

 

The Westchester County Board of Legislators Committees on Environment and Energy will have a joint meeting discussing Consolidated Edison’s recent tree cutting along electric transmission line corridors.  Both committees will, also, address legislation calling for a moratorium on Con Edison’s tree cutting program and a revision of the State’s Public Service Commission requirements

 

 

Who:

 

 

- Energy and Environment Committee Members
- Representatives from Con Edison

 

 

When:

 

 

Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm

 

 

Where:

 

 

Westchester County Board of Legislators Committee Room
148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor
White Plains, NY

 

 

Why:

 

 

Recent tree cutting and clearing along electric transmission line corridors has raised many questions and concerns among homeowners and municipalities that border these lines.  Con Edison operates and manages the transmission lines, which span from Yonkers to Yorktown.

 

 

Westchester Lawmakers Meet With District Attorney & Current Insurance Provider On Employee Health Insurance Contributions Proposals

(White Plains, NY) – The Westchester County Board of Legislators Special Committee on Health Insurance Savings held its second meeting on Tuesday, February 16, 2010. The first meeting was held on Saturday, February 6th when the committee agreed on a work plan for coming up with legislation for county employees’ contributions to their health insurance plan. The committee was established to analyze and make recommendations on the fairest and most cost-effective way for the County to provide quality and affordable health care access to its employees at reduced costs. Chaired by the Board’s Vice-Chairman, Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and the Board’s Majority Whip, Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), the Committee’s initial goal was to reach out to stakeholders who would be most affected by changes in the existing county plan as well as persons with knowledge and expertise on the proposed changes. "With the research we are doing now, and the input from all of the involved stakeholders, this special committee will be able to make a rational and sustainable recommendation for moving forward," commented Legislator Myers.

In this regard, the committee brought together Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, Finance Commissioner Anne Marie Berg and POMCO representatives for input on the fairest and most economically feasible manner the County could achieve some interim savings for taxpayers while continuing to provide its quality coverage to its employees.  “The committee moved expeditiously to provide a workable plan that considered all stakeholders in balancing the important need for taxpayer relief while allowing for fairness to county employees,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.

Beyond the near-term savings from a revised contributory plan, the committee, which consists of, Myers and Williams, along with Legislators John Testa (R-Peekskill), Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) and John Nonna (D-Mount Pleasant), intends to pursue permanent long-term savings by conducting a comprehensive analysis of all existing plans that would save Westchester taxpayers millions of dollars. Vice-Chairman Lyndon Williams said that the next phase is for the committee to meet with health insurance professionals and key industry experts to assess and develop a health benefit plan works best for Westchester County.  “We all agree that the county’s health plan should provide for employees contributions. However, changes to the plan should be implemented in a thoughtful and orderly manner with a view to best quality coverage at the lowest costs. This cannot be achieved by simply pulling numbers out of a hat that might not materialize in the long run.”  

Harmful Impact on Westchester District Attorney’s Office
Westchester County District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, told the committee that her office will be disproportionately impacted by the County Executive’s proposed plan, which would require to all non-union employees pay 15% of the estimated costs of the County’s insurance expense. The DA pointed that of the 377 of employees affected by the proposed plan, 125 of them are county prosecutors, who have not received even a cost-of-living increase since 2005.  She said “my senior staff is comprised largely of lawyers who are these ‘career prosecutors’…it is the reason why our County has one of the highest felony conviction rates in the state of New York. We have skilled, experienced and responsible prosecutors in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, and we need to treat them fairly and with the high level of respect they deserve” stated DiFiore. The District Attorney said that while her office was disproportionately impacted, she was not consulted on the County Executive’s proposal.     “The unintended consequences of these actions, creating strong incentives which will cause the premature departure from public service by these highly skilled lawyers—and eliminate at one time, in one fell swoop the entire top level of my staff—will have potentially devastating effects on public safety in Westchester County,” said DiFiore. 

The District attorney made it clear that she was not opposed to a contributory plan being enacted, given the current economic climate, but would appreciate sensible thoughtful process that considers the unintended consequences that could result. She said, “I understand completely the gravity of the economic issues facing our County government and, further, that I fully support smart, real and effective change as long as it is designed to deliver essential services to the taxpayers in this County in the most efficient manner.  What I am opposed to are changes that are not smart, real or effective—and the consequences of these proposals you have before you have neither been thought out or planned for adequately.”  

The $1.2 million dollars of projected savings for 2010 in County Executive proposal is overstated
County Finance Commissioner Ann Marie Berg discussed the existing plan as administered currently by POMCO. She confirmed that contrary to the impression given to the public that county employees do not pay for health insurance coverage, some county employees do pay part of the costs for their health coverage. Berg also clarified on the record that the $22,000 costs of family coverage on which the County Executive’s savings were based is erroneous.  She said that the “$22,000 is the overall cumulative costs of the POMCO family plan, which includes HMO, Medicare Part B, dental and vision plans,” said Commissioner Berg.  According to records, the baseline cost of a family plan that the County pays for health coverage only under the POMCO contract for County employees is only $19,500. 

“One of the problems I’m having with this whole discussion is that people are irresponsibly throwing out all kinds of numbers in terms of this plan,” said Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers).  “It is completely irresponsible that people are suggesting that our [POMCO] family plan costs $22,000 a year, and it doesn’t.  Let’s compare apples to apples. Quite frankly, the fundamental goal of this Committee was to conduct this type of analysis and to get to the root of these issues, and honestly, we are having numbers presented to the public that are simply not true.  Taxpayers need real tax relief and fiscal leadership, not politics as usual with officials playing fast and loose with the numbers.” 

POMCO Representatives Gave Updates on Current Plan
Jennifer Zando, Director of Account Management and Vanessa Flynn, Vice President of Client Services of POMCO briefed the Committee on its current plan with the County.  They explained that Westchester County used to have a fully insured plan with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield as its insurance carrier. The County determined that it would be more cost-effective for the County to be self-insured. It then changed from Empire to a self-insured plan administered by POMCO as the 3rd party administrator. They informed the Committee that the current plan already contained a ‘working spouse’ exclusion, which prevents a working spouse from using the POMCO plan as a primary source of insurance.

POMCO representatives indicated that they provide the County regular reports on ways to save money on health insurance. The Committee requested copies of the reports be forwarded to the Legislature on a regular basis.  The Committee also requested that POMCO provide a various plan comparisons and recommendations for alternative for non-represented employees. 

Legal Opinion requested from the County Attorney
Last week, the Committee requested a legal opinion from the County Attorney on the legal implications of plan revisions without the input of other the duly elected branches of county government (District Attorney’s office, County Clerk and the Judiciary) and without the required fiscal impact statement. These separately elected offices were not consulted by the County Executive before proposal of his plan. “We need to be working together on these important policy issues that cross intersect various branches of government that are managed by officials separately elected by Westchester residents to administer their offices. It is neither prudent nor reasonable to implement a policy that could have devastating impact on another elected official’s agency without consulting him or her,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.

 

Reconstruction 45% Over Budget

(Greenburgh, NY) -- County Legislator Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) today called on Westchester County to sell 450 Saw Mill River Road in Greenburgh, the building which the County purchased just a year and a half ago to house voting machines.

Abinanti’s move comes amid reports that building renovations are 45% over budget. It also follows today’s authorization by the Board of Acquisition and Contract for the new administration of County Executive Rob Astorino to rebid some of the remaining work for which it has rejected bids.

“Those of us who opposed purchasing the building said the cost estimates were too low, the building had mold and asbestos, the roof needed to be replaced not repaired,  - and we’ve been proved right,” said Legislator Abinanti.  “The operating costs will be far too expensive. Transporting machines around the County from that location is geographically extremely difficult.”

Earlier this week, the Public Works Department revealed to the Board of Legislators that the cost of the renovation project was $3.3 million more than the $6.8 million budget - for a total $10.1 million. The Department said that the additional cost would not be bonded but financed with a loan from the New York Power Authority to be paid back monthly from energy “savings” from the newly installed state of the art energy-efficient heating and cooling systems which replaced systems the Department had originally claimed would not need to be replaced.

The purchase of the building has been fraught with controversy. Former County Executive Andrew Spano administration’s purchase followed more than a year of controversy over whether the County should purchase the building.  There have been several complaints by workers in a neighboring business during construction of airborne contaminants which affected their breathing and caused damage to their vehicles.

“This building is nothing but trouble,” said Abinanti, ”we need to cut our losses and sell the building.”

(White Plains, NY) – On the first anniversary of the allocation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding, Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) today thanked our state and Congressional delegations for securing more than $552 million in aid to Westchester County.  “The ARRA was an extraordinary response to a crisis unlike anything our generation has witnessed. This critical legislation provided significant funding for fiscal relief, as well as for infrastructure and environmental projects, direct benefits to low income and unemployed residents” said Jenkins. “With $31 billion being allocated for programs that directly impact our State, Westchester has been able to secure more than $552 million for local projects, with many underway.”

Jenkins further commented "As we head towards warmer weather and construction season,  Westchester residents will see the construction phases of Westchester ARRA projects.  These investments are important get people back to work and improve our local economies.  While the County Board continues to work with all of our government partners to find efficiencies that reduce the cost of government, we must not lose focus on the need to invest in the infrastructure of Westchester." Highlights of Westchester’s allocation and projects are:

Infrastructure:
About $59.8 million has been allocated for county infrastructure projects, including:

  • Upgrades along the Bronx River Parkway, the Popham Road Bridge in Scarsdale, the Odell Avenue Bridge in Yonkers, the South First Avenue Bridge in Mount Vernon and bridges along the Interstate 684
  • System upgrades for traffic and pedestrian signal equipment, traffic detectors, repaving of the southbound lanes of the Taconic State Parkway, pavement overlay of Route 123 in Rye and an automated traffic management system on the Cross County Parkway

Employment & Jobs:
Roughly $169 million in Workforce Improvement Act (WIA) funding has been allocated to New York, with Westchester receiving $3.18 million, specifically:

  • $544,000 allocated for adult employment and job training
  • $1 million allocated for dislocated worker employment and training
  • $948,000 allocated for summer youth employment programs

Aid to Families in Need:
Westchester received more than $191.3 million for temporary benefits, with direct payments to individuals through a combination of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grants, which included:

  • $162.8 million in extended unemployment insurance
  • More than $27.2 million allocated for increased food stamps
  • $1.3 million in increased Pell grants to college students
  • $3 million in Emergency Fund for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program
  • $2.37 million in Project-Based Rental Assistance (Section 8)

Clean Water & Clean Air:
Westchester received more than $58.3 million in funding for environmental and energy projects, including:

  • $43.8 million for clean water,  drinking  water  and  wastewater  projects, such as construction of the collection system and treatment plant in North Salem and nitrogen removal and other upgrades at the Mamaroneck Wastewater Treatment Facility
  • $8.6 million towards Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants through conservation and renewable energy projects
  • $5.9 million towards weatherization projects

The County Board, through its oversight, continues to monitor the progress of these projects are fulfilling the requirements and are creating jobs for people in Westchester.