Warrensburg's board members gathered in Emerson Town Hall recently and adopted a budget that calls for a zero tax increase.
Board members clashed during a special town budget meeting Tuesday Oct. 25, which concluded as they cast a split vote to eliminate a 1.9 tax increase and to have town employees pay a portion of their health care coverage.
The Warrensburg Town Board voted 3-2 to approve a preliminary 2012 budget that requires town board members to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums and for non-union town employees to pay 10 percent of their own coverage. To date, the town has paid the entire cost for employees hired before 2007, and the newer employees already pay 10 percent.
Town Board members Dean Ackley and Austin Markey voted against the proposed zero-increase budget. Town Supervisor Kevin Geraghty and councilmen John Alexander and Bryan Rounds voted for the proposed budget, although it cuts their own benefits and eliminates a pay boost for Geraghty.
During the contentious meeting, Supervisor Kevin Geraghty voluntarily gave up his scheduled pay increase, while pointing out that he continues to earn less pay from the town than the town assessor and the town code enforcement officer, yet has far more expansive duties and works longer hours.
The issue of health insurance was raised several months ago, when Councilman Dean Ackley noted the increasingly burdensome expense to taxpayers of coverage for employees and board members. Members of the town council now receive fully-funded health care coverage for life at no charge after 10 years of service.
Ackley had proposed that all board members elected beginning in 2012 not be given that privilege — while “grandfathering” benefits to existing board members — which sparked accusations from the public that Ackley was acting in his own self-interest.
Tuesday, he and fellow board member Board member Austin Markey voted against the downsized budget. After the meeting, Markey left the room without comment to the local media. Ackley, however, did comment. He said he wasn’t in favor of the health care contribution.
“I don’t like taking away so much from our hard-working employees,” he said. Earlier during the heated board discussion, Markey had also voiced opposition to the 10 percent contribution to health care costs. He had said he’d polled the town employees, and they had opposed the change.
However, several town employees responded that they were willing to give up the 10 percent, considering the state of the economy.
Geraghty said that the town employees knew the cost-sharing was coming, considering that neighboring communities have their employees pay a far higher share.
“We have to think about the local people that have to drive 40 miles to work to earn $10 per hour,” he said, citing the financial stresses of the taxpayers.
The budget endorsed by the board Tuesday calls for the town to spend under $1.6 million from its general fund on town expenses, a reduction of about $65,000 from 2010. The highway fund appropriations would be $957,250, an increase of $2,745 from 2011