T he Town of Whitehall will compensate employees for a four-hundred percent increase in the cost of an insurance deductible for inpatient care.
The board approved the measure during last week’s monthly meeting following a request from Highway Superintendent Louie Pratt.
Pratt told board members that employees changed their insurance provider and the deductible for inpatient care will be $750 higher than it was under the old plan.
“I’m asking if the town would pay the excess,” said Pratt, who added the overall cost of insurance will be “cheaper this year by a whisker.”
The town changed plans because its previous policy was no longer available.
Under the previous plan, if a town employee or any individual included under their coverage required inpatient care, the deductible would cost $250. But under the new plan, that same deductible will cost $1,000.
“I think with what the boys are getting paid, we should help them with their insurance. They aren’t getting rich,” Councilman Dave Hollister said.
But at least one member of the board expressed concerns that the town could be putting itself in a potentially costly situation.
“This could cost us a pile of money that we don’t have budgeted,” Richard “Dickie” LaChapelle said.
He questioned what would happen if an employee or employee(s) required multiple hospital visits.
“The money isn’t in the budget,” he said. “We have to approach it like a business. We’re supposed to be saving money.”
Officials decided, however, that the increase would have a greater impact on employees than it would on the town. They said they will review their policy options again next year.
“It could cost us money, but it would be catastrophic for a family,” Prefountaine said.
During the meeting, a seemingly innocuous question about how the town should handle access to the Senior Center turned into a point of contention.
The town recently had the locks at the Senior Center changed to better control access to the facility and were asking those that needed to use the space to come to the Whitehall Municipal Center and retrieve keys, which they were to return after they were done.
The procedure, however, prompted a number of seniors to complain the practice was unfair.
“They think it’s belittling to come back every time they need to use the center,” Supervisor George Armstrong said.
In response, Armstrong gave out keys to seniors and several other individuals, a decision that didn’t sit well with certain members of the board.
“Some things I think should be voted on. I don’t think the keys should be given out without board approval,” said Councilperson Stephanie Safka. “I think it should be the same for everyone.”
Both Safka and LaChapelle said they were in favor of a sign out policy in which individuals who want to use the building come to the Municipal Center to retrieve a key.
“We need accountability,” LaChapelle said.
But Armstrong questioned what would happen on weekends when no one is at the municipal center.
“It’s working fine the way it is. We’ve had no problems and no conflicts,” Armstrong said.”
“Let’s continue to the way we’re going until we run into a problem and if we do, then we’ll change it,” Hollister said.
One topic the board was in full agreement on was the need for street lights at the corner of State Route 4 and Buckley Road and the corner of State Route 4 and Norton Road.
“I’m strongly in favor of putting lights up,” Armstrong said.
He said he received a quote from National Grid and the cost of installing 150 watt lights at the intersection would cost approximately $334 per year.
LaChapelle said with the number of events held at the school the lights were needed.
Officials said there used to be lights at the corner of State Route 4 and Buckley Road, but they were taken down with the belief it would save the town money.
“You can’t put a price on safety,” LaChapelle said.
Armstrong told the board the town had finalized its contract with union employees who will receive a two percent raise in each of the next four years.
He said employees, who are currently paid $15.65 per hour, will end up receiving about a dollar more per hour by the final year of the contract.
“That should bring them up to what the county pays now,” he said.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on March 13.