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Employee health care stays put in Bloomfield Township

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 9, 2019


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — As a packed crowd hurled insults at the supervisor and other trustees from the gallery, the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees voted Nov. 25 to again opt out of Public Act 152, giving the municipality the ability to pay more of its employee health care costs.

The board passed the resolution 5-2, with Trustees David Buckley and Dani Walsh voting against the opt-out. PA 152, or the Publicly Funded Health Insurance Contributions Act, was first effective in 2012 and gives municipalities three format options to fund employee health benefits, including a hard cap with a defined employer contribution and the employee paying overages or no contribution if claims fall under the hard cap; a split where the municipality pays 80% and employees pay 20%; and finally, an opt-out format where the municipality creates its own plan, with or without negotiations with unions.

A plan to move to self-funded employee health care was outlined before the vote by John Vance, with the Manquen Vance municipality advisory firm, which was hired by the board to consult on benefits for township employees.

Vance explained that the township’s approximately 300 employees currently pay a premium of around $17 per month for a family, and a little more than $8 per month for an individual. Along with that, participants pay a deductible up to $4,000.

He added that his team was able to dig out areas of savings moving forward with a similarly structured plan, saving several million dollars for the community — a move necessary as the township faces a budget shortfall of between $5 million and $7 million due to other post-employment benefit obligations.

Residents in the audience, however, weren’t convinced the savings were sufficient and protested, wanting the board to make municipal employees contribute more. Some held signs that read, “Pay your fair share” and “No opt out.”

“How many people pay only $15 a month for total health care like you?” asked resident Don Valenti. “Stop making taxpayers pay 99% of employee health care costs. … And why can’t taxpayers vote to have a say on these health care costs? … This is big-time self-interest, conflict of interest, breach of fiduciary duty. You guys are good at screwing taxpayers.”

“We are the people who pay the bills in this community. Yes, the employees contribute as well. The idea we need going forward is of shared sacrifice,” said community activist MaryAlice LeDuc. “That means residents receive some services that are outsourced and some services that are delayed. It also means that employees and retirees pay more for their benefits, OK? And so far, none of your cuts have involved the employees. It’s time for the employees to pay more.”

Supervisor Leo Savoie said the township could see a $40 million reduction in costs by committing to the plan Vance presented. And despite arguments from some residents, Buckley and Walsh, he said keeping the custom-designed plan is better to retain talent.

In responding to criticisms from the public, he didn’t mince words.

“I know that most of those people who got up and spoke don’t like me. I have no problem with that whatsoever. In fact, I’m kind of glad you don’t, because I don’t particularly like you, either. And I don’t like the philosophy,” Savoie said while explaining that he doesn’t believe compensation is comparable to other municipalities, and there are no incentives to keep employees in the township.

“That being said, our job is to make a good relationship with employees, make it fair and make it competitive with other communities.”