CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen plan to create a new policy that would eliminate health insurance coverage for part-time elected and appointed officials.
During a workshop meeting Tuesday on setting town goals, the officials agreed that in the near future they will have to make a decision on insurance.
"This has to be done by Jan. 1 for the people who will have to leave town insurance," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "It's already almost October and we need to notify them post haste."
Currently, the town offers all elected and appointed officials insurance and the Selectmen guessed it costs the town between $10,000 and $15,000 annually. A number of towns and cities have offered such policies for years but the growing costs of health insurance have many taking a second look at this once cheap perk.
Francesconi read an opinion from town counsel that stated that the town cannot eliminate insurance for elected officials without eliminating it for all town employees, which would most likely lead to litigation. It was suggested that the town adopt a time-card policy that would prove that elected officials are working under 20 hours during a regular work week.
Selectman Edmund St. John IV felt it may be difficult to enforce this policy.
"Are people going to fill out a time card to justify this and what kind of oversight are we going to have?" St. John asked. "I know it's illegal to falsify a time card but how would we know that?"
Francesconi said she could not imagine an elected official working 20 hours a week and suggested that the officials include a written log with their time cards.
She was also concerned that the town may lose some elected or appointed officials once insurance is no longer offered.
Town Administrator Mark Webber said many communities use a similar policy and he would create a report surveying what other communities do.
Chairman Robert Ciskowski suggested bumping up the salaries of officials to compensate for the loss of insurance, however, Francesconi said this would quickly wipe out any savings the town would incur.
Ciskowski said he personally would like some of the savings to go toward stipends for the volunteer Fire Department.
"It's not going to compensate them for their training and the 2 in the morning calls but it is something," he said. "If we save money there are a hundred places we can put it but I would like to maybe do something for them."
In other business, the Selectmen voted to allow the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to apply for an up to $20,000 planning assistance grant on the town's behalf to help initiate its recently completed master plan.
"The money would go to them and there is no town obligation except for selectmen approval," Webber said. "If they are successful they will continue to ramp up their assistance."
Planning Board member Peter Traub said the grant could also help the board craft medical and recreational marijuana bylaws that began the conversation of what to do in the interim while the board actually forms a bylaw.
Traub said the board did not plan to set a moratorium on licenses and instead would just form the bylaw, however, Webber urged the planners to reconsider.
"To me, that is a mistake and it could be fatal ... if someone came in with an application tonight he is first in the door and you would have to act on that application," Webber said. "With the moratorium, you are the first in the door."
Webber said the town may be out of time because the moratorium would be a bylaw change and, according to the town charter, a bylaw change can only be voted on at an annual town meeting. This would leave the town unprotected until early summer.
Traub asked if the Planning Board were to at least start the process, if it would allow the town to not act upon applications until town meeting.
Webber said this may be a possibility and if the Selectmen officially refer the bylaws to the Planning Board it would buy the town some time.
"That would start the clock," he said. "But the Planning Board needs to get moving."
Passing a moratorium at town meeting would only give the town until December so the town plans to pass an actual bylaw at the same time.
Webber added that the town may not even have to pass a moratorium if it can craft a bylaw in time.
The select board will officially refer the bylaw to the Planning Board next week.
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