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.”