ELIZABETHTOWN - A proposal to get all elected officials in line with health insurance contributions sparked a heated debate among Essex County supervisors July 6.
Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava introduced a surprise resolution to address the issue of one board member refusing to make contributions for health insurance benefits.
At the June 15 Personnel Committee meeting, St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency admitted to being the only supervisor not making contributions after Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell initiated discussion on the topic.
Connell argued that Morency's refusal to contribute may appear to be in violation of the county's board-approved employee policy manual, which requires contributions from both union members and department heads.
Morency claimed that the requirement shouldn't apply to elected officials, however; especially those who had been serving since before contributions were first required in 1999. Having been in her post since 1981, Morency is currently the longest-tenured supervisor on the board.
"The board knows that I have always gotten my insurance, and somewhere along the line many of them started being told they had to pay and they are," she said at the June 15 meeting. "I have been told that I would be grandfathered in because of my years of devotion to Essex County."
Scozzafava's proposed resolution would require "all elected officials, both part-time and full-time" to contribute toward their health insurance benefits in the same manner as other county employees. The resolution passed, but not without opposition.
"If we decide to give special treatment in regards to health care insurance, we're going to hear about it from our constituents," said Scozzafava, arguing that elected officials in neighboring counties, who have similar pay and benefits, are also required to contribute.
"It does make us look like elitists when we are discussing special policies for the board of supervisors," said Connell in agreement.
Randy Douglas, supervisor of Jay, said the resolution was being introduced prematurely and should instead be brought up at the next meeting of the Personnel Committee, which he chairs.
"I don't think it should be decided today," said Douglas, saying he had been working with County Manager Daniel Palmer and County Attorney Dan Manning to analyze the county's policy.
"Why couldn't this have been shared with colleagues?" Douglas asked, criticizing Scozzafava for introducing the resolution without warning.
Douglas moved to table the resolution, but the motion did not garner enough support to pass. Supervisors Michael McSweeney (D-Minerva), George Canon (R-Newcomb), Roby Politi (R-North Elba), Robert Dobie (D-North Hudson), Lori Lincoln-Spooner (R-Willsboro), and Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) all voted in
favor of tabling.
County Manager Daniel Palmer explained how the benefits included in renegotiated CSEA contracts are traditionally adopted into the policy manual and apply to elected officials. The last revisions were made in 2005, and recent changes in the contract are in the process of being written into the manual.
"The intent was to make it equal for everyone," Palmer said.
Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew called the resolution unnecessary and redundant, saying it called for the enforcement of a policy that was already in place.
"This is an issue we need to address," Scozzafava countered. "We have a policy that's not being enforced formally across the board."
Merrihew said Morency simply wanted to review the language in the policy manual to see if an exception could be made in her case.
"If it's determined she's not grandfathered in, Ms. Morency will contribute," said Merrihew.
All board members present voted in favor of the resolution with the exception of Canon and Morency, who both abstained.