ELIZABETHTOWN - The issue of whether Essex County elected officials should contribute to their health insurance plans will be decided at the July meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.
Only one town supervisor in Essex County currently takes fully paid health insurance benefits - St. Armand's Joyce Morency. She came forward during the June 15 meeting of the Personnel Committee after Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell said constituents complained to him that the board isn't following it's own policies and procedures.
But Morency - the longest tenured supervisor in Essex County - said when she was first elected in 1981 elected officials were offered paid health insurance to offset their relatively low pay. Additionally, an error in the county's policy manual says both elected officials and unionized workers may take health benefits without contributing.
"I had the option of taking medical insurance from either the Town of St. Armand or the county," Morency said. "To me, the choice is obvious."
"The problem is, for me, is when I came to the county almost 29 years ago, I was an elected official and supervisors at that time earned $9,000 a year plus medical insurance," Morency said. "So that was part of the deal. We didn't make much of a salary, but we did get our medical insurance. And I've been getting it."
Morency said she was told she wouldn't have to contribute to her plan because of her experience.
County Manager Dan Palmer said she's not necessarily wrong for taking up that position.
"I've never been popular for saying this, but I think these supervisors are underpaid," he said. "So the idea of extending cheap or free health insurance to these people isn't really out-of-line."
"We've got to settle the issue of what constitutes what's fair for them," Palmer said. "Joyce has raised the issue that she was told she'd never have to pay for health insurance, and it never came to the point where she needed to until late in 2008. She's kind of holding her ground, and wants us, the board, to make a determination.
"And that's really what's got to happen next. The board needs to make a decision as to how it wants to treat this particular group of county officials."
As for salary, supervisors currently get just over $17,000 a year from the county in addition to their town stipends. Palmer thinks those numbers are fairly low for the work required.
"For the abuse an elected official endures, the money isn't that great," he said. "So the health benefits are an important aspect of the deal."
But Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava disagreed. He said elected officials should know what they're signing up for in advance.
"You've got to make a choice," he said. "We know what we're getting into ahead of time."