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At Mayor's Request, Public Officials Will Lose Eligibility For Health Benefits

Councilwoman who lost mayoral election is affected

Beginning in 2013, public officials in Mahwah will no longer be eligible to receive health benefits, thanks to a resolution passed by the last Thursday night.

Mayor Bill Laforet requested the council move to end officials’ eligibility to receive benefits immediately, but the council decided that would be “unfair” to town council members who are currently enrolled in the township’s benefits program.

“For newly elected officials not to get benefits is fine, but for those who are already taking them, changing the game midstream is not fair,” Councilman Roy Larson said Thursday night.

Laforet, who said he was requesting this as a fulfillment of a campaign promise to end “wasteful spending on elected officials’ benefits,” said he was not happy with the council’s decision not to enact the change immediately.

“This is not a personnel matter, it is a policy change,” he said. An immediate end to elected officials’ benefits “is what the people voted for in November, and obviously what the people of Mahwah want.”

Though Laforet was referring to his victory in the , and ending benefits being one of his campaign promises, Larson said he “didn’t notice that question on the ballot.”

Laforet argued that the township’s elected officials – town council members and the mayor – all serve technically part time positions. Only full time employees of the township are eligible to opt into a benefits plan. All other part time and appointed positions are not eligible.

“That’s where I disagree, this is not a part time job,” Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio, who and is one of two members on the council receiving benefits, said. “You go to so many functions, get calls at all hours. [Laforet] will find that the mayor, too, is a very full time job.”

However, DiGiulio told Patch she is not upset about the decision to end officials’ eligibility to receive benefits, because she respects Laforet’s desire to “stick to his campaign promise. The way the state is going, it’s probably time to end them anyway.” Governor Chris Christie eliminate vacation and sick time payouts for retiring public employees.

DiGiulio, who said she’s been enrolled in the benefits plan since starting her tenure on the council 23 years ago, said she thought it was “very fair” of the council to not enact the change immediately. She said that will give her time to make other arrangements.

DiGiulio’s current term also ends around the same time the benefits will be pulled. “I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to run again, but [the benefits issue] will not be a factor in my decision,” she said.

Councilman John Spiech, the other member currently enrolled in the benefits plan, said the switch is “not really a major issue,” for him. Spiech said he’s only had the township’s plan since the middle of 2010, when Medicare told him he had to take the plan he was eligible for, instead of staying on as a Medicare recipient.

According to Laforet, his campaign promise had “unintended consequences” on these council members. He said the main reason he wanted to eliminate benefits was to save money in the township budget.

There was a discrepancy at the meeting over the actual cost to Mahwah. Council President John Roth argued it’s about $14,000 per family plan, and Laforet said it was $29,000. Laforet later explained $14K is an estimate of the actual cost from past figures, and $29K is the potential payout the township would be liable for should “something happen” and a big payout be necessary.

“Whether its $29,000, $14,000 or $1 it’s still a cost to this township,” Laforet said Thursday night. Other council members agreed.

“I agree with the mayor and applaud his stance to eliminate health benefits,” Councilman Harry Williams said. “But we have an obligation to be fair,” to those members currently receiving benefits, he said Thursday.

For DiGiulio and Spiech, they said the council’s new resolution is a fair one. “I am going to cooperate,” DiGiulio said. “The election is over now and it’s all about serving the town.”

J. Dalton December 22, 2011 at 01:55 PM
I support Bill's policy change and for quick implementation. On a similar topic, no elected official should receive lifetime benefits.
Ralph December 22, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Shame shame shame Mr. Bill. This was not a campaign promise but a very personal issue with Ms. Diguilio who has served our township for more years then you ever will. And get your facts straight too. The $29,000 savings per year that you Mr. Bill stated at the meeting was as you said Cobra payments. If you know anything Mr. Businessman, the $29,000 would be paid by the individual who lost benefits in full if they elected to keep the benefits after they lost them and not a cost to the township. While we are talking about savings, why dont you also have the council take away the meager $8,000 stipend they receive for serving and your $14,000 that you receive. This way all as you say Part time elected officials will be running next year to SERVE their town. Not much of an incentive now is it? Cut the salaries of our FT township workers to really make an impact, not the personal stuff that you and your cronies are doing. Shame Shame Shame on you Mr. Bill.
Mike December 22, 2011 at 02:12 PM
When 2012 comes will the benefits end or will Ms. Digulio get lifetime benefits? I think J. Dalton, I agree with you about lifetime benefits but I it sounds like Mrs. Digulio will get lifetime beneftis. Wait and see, when the benefits end she will propbably retire and get lifetime health benefits that all of us taxpayers have to continually pay for.
JP December 22, 2011 at 05:15 PM
One example of why this country needs a single payer health care system. So that no one is subjected to losing their health care benefits for any obscure reason decided upon by one individual. No offense, but it seems to me I remember Bill campaigned on not taking HIS OWN health care benefits, not disrupting everyone else's. Great way to start out a tenure by dictating a major change like this and causing friction between a mayor and his council, just great.
Jonathan N. Marcus December 22, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Ralph: If I am not mistaken, I believe Mayor Laforet publicly stated on numerous occasions durign his campaign (you can probably do a Google search on it) that if he were elected as mayor he would refuse to take any stipends, pensions or similar benefits from the township. Thus, it was indeed a campaign promise that he had made.
Glenn Murphy December 22, 2011 at 08:52 PM
To me.. Mr Bill Laforet is the BEST Thing for Mahwah! Nice that there is "New Ideas" and most of all "New Direction" for the town to go.. The OLD MAYOR: Mr. Martel was ONLY for the following Sections of the town:FARDALE Section, Well to do Sections of the town, and most of all (Franklin Lakes Area of Mahwah)! He did NOT Give a Crap about the "Craigmere Park Section" and the "Island Road Section" of the Town!! Those Sections consisted the early "RETAIL Sections" of the town! Not ROUTE 17 & Mcauther Blvd Area of the Town!!
JP December 22, 2011 at 09:00 PM
It was, but he didn't mention taking the benefits away from other people, just himself. Don't get me wrong, I like Bill, he's a great guy, but I think he's going to need a little bit of time getting into a political frame of mind. Running a government is not like running a business. Being a businessman you expect things to happen immediately after you make a decision, in politics once you make a decision it may take a long time to get others to agree with it, or they may not agree it at all. (BTW, this is why people like Donald Trump will never be president of the United States. he wouldn't want to share in the decision making, or be opposed in his decision making, in my opinion)
Mike December 22, 2011 at 09:21 PM
I don't quite understand the comments everyone is making. What does Mayor Martel have to do with Mrs. Digulio and Mr. Spechs health benefits as part time council people? I thought benefit was the issue. Mr. Spech said he didn't care and could make other plans, Mrs. Degulio I was told has a full time job elsewhere. She should have her full time job pay her benefits not the taxpayers. Apparently all the other council people did make other arrangements. Why can't the other two?
Mike December 22, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Did someone say that the new mayor is not taking a salary, health benefits or a pension?
JP December 22, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Yes, he did.
resident December 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM
I was at the meeting and I believe it was mentioned that elected part time officals were not eligble for benefits. Some of them have been receiving benefits for over 20 years when the town policy states part time employees are not eligible for benefits. How did that happen? They are very good benefits to. Delta Dental is one of the best dental plans around and IDA is also top notch. They are not getting Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and to get medical and dental benfits is very rare these days. The business administrator stated several time that part time employees are not eligble of health benefits. That is not something the Mayor changed. I am sorry they have to loose their benefits but the future is going to be very different for everyone. Everyone is effected by today's economy not just the town council and their benefits.
Joe December 23, 2011 at 12:13 AM
If this is true, how much have has this cost us, the taxpayers, over 23 years? How did this happen?
Andy Schmidt December 23, 2011 at 01:20 PM
JP - let me inject facts: Bill Laforet, October 15, 2011: "I will refuse to accept these benefits and will ask for that money to be returned to taxpayers or allocated to our emergency service volunteers. And I will ask the members of the council to do the same." http://www.teamlaforet.com/29000
Andy Schmidt December 23, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Campaign Promises, Newspaper Ad Campaign, October 26, 2011: "...take away free Cadillac health care benefits for part-time elected officials" http://www.villadom.com/VTNews/2011/Z4/Oct/1026/5.html
Andy Schmidt December 23, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Ralph - it WAS a campaign promise and in fact was repeatedly a point of public discussion among candidates and council members. Letter to the Editor by Bill Laforet, Bergen Record: "If elected, I will refuse to accept these benefits and will ask for that money to be returned to taxpayers or allocated to our emergency service volunteers. And I will ask the members of the council to do the same." http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/132676133_Letter__Mayoral_candidate_pledges_to_put_others__needs_first.html
JP December 24, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Yeah Andy, the key word there is "ASK", not demand. Also if anyone here thinks the job of mayor or town council is a part time position, you're either simply naieve of the time put in by our local government or just denying the truth.
JP December 24, 2011 at 07:48 PM
The real question is, were policies paid for for those people that didn't take or even use the insurance during their tenure? I don't mind them having the insurance if they actually use it and take advantage of the plan.

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