BERLIN — An increase to the town’s portion of the employee health care program caused one member of the Town Council to lament what she sees as a growing trend of Berlin always being left holding the short end of the stick with rising health care costs.
The actual increase to the insurance premium for next year is planned for .76 percent or $44,000 over the current plan. Because of the way Berlin’s employee health care is structured, the hope is that only about 80 percent of that figure, or $35,200, will be spent, explained Human Resources Director Jeff Fleetwood.
“We put it all in a bucket. You get the money back that you don’t spend,” he said.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch told Fleetwood that she was not bothered by the increase so much as the fact that the town will be responsible for covering all of it.
“The only problem that I have, and you and I have discussed this ad nauseam … you’re asking the town to absorb the whole cost,” she said, “That’s the problem I have. Health insurance is going up and it’s going to go up and to me this should be a shared cost. We shouldn’t be assuming all of the increased costs.”
It was not only the premium that troubled Lynch but the tradition of Berlin taking on those costs instead of spreading them out a bit amongst employees.
“The tax payers who pay for these benefits are not making these kinds of salaries or these kinds of benefits,” she told Fleetwood. “And I conceptually have a problem with always picking up the increases.”
In Fleetwood’s opinion, the town absorbing those costs did carry major benefits, especially in the form of employee retention.
“You’ve got a very good retention rate here. That’s a fact … you’ve got folks that have been here a long time,” he said. “You should ask yourselves, why? We’re competitive in pay, could be better but we’re competitive. But we offer a very good benefits package.”
Fleetwood didn’t comment on how Berlin compares to the private sector but did note that the town is not exactly spoiling employees and does not have a compensation package that is overwhelming when compared to most areas.
“We’re not the best, we’re not the worst … we’re not number one, we’re not number last. We’re competitive,” he said.
One of the advantages of the new insurance plan, though the premium will increase to the town, is that employees won’t be negatively affected.
“There’s no change to the employee. The way an employee goes to a provider, the way an employee takes a family member to a provider: none of that changes,” he said. “The cost to the employee: nothing changes.”
Lynch admitted that Fleetwood “made a compelling point” but said that she still had concerns. However, the council voted unanimously 4-0 with Councilman Elroy Brittingham absent to approve the new insurance plan as recommended by Fleetwood.