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The agreement was announced on Thursday afternoon at City Hall.

North Adams Reaches Insurance Agreement With Unions

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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North Adams Police Association Local 382 President Brian Kelly, North Adams Teachers Association President Susan Chilson and North Adams Firefighters Association Local 1781 Vice President Matt LaBonte.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will pay back an estimated $800,000 to settle a long-running battle over insurance with its public employees unions through a new insurance plan and reductions in workers' premiums over the next three years.

The agreement also includes switching from the city's self-insurance to coverage under the Municipal Interlocal Insurance Association beginning July 1. In return, the police and teachers unions have agreed to drop their grievances against the city.
 
"This is the best possible outcome for both the taxpayers of North Adams and the employees," said Mayor Richard Alcombright at a press conference on Thursday with union leaders. "We've reached an amicable and mutually beneficial agreement with our employees. "We're extremely happy to put this isue behind us; litigation of this issue would have been costly and may have resulted in a much larger settlement."

The unions had charged that the city failed to fully fund the Medical Insurance Trust Fund, meaning that workers were paying more than their 30 percent share. A review of the fund commissioned by the new administration found that the city had not fully funded the account as mandated by state law for at least the last three years.

However, paying the runout, or claims not yet received at the end of the fiscal year, will mean borrowing or amortizing some $650,000.

"Let me make this very clear, that had the plan been funded properly in the past, those dollars would have been there," said Alcombright. "Because of the underfunding, we will need to borrow or amortize this amount over a five- to seven-year period."

That will require a special act of the Legislature, said the mayor, and Rep. Daniel E. Bosley and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing are preparing to file that legislation.

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The premium split will change from 70 percent for the city and 30 percent for employees to 77/23 for fiscal 2011 and 75/25 for fiscal 2012. The two-year contract with MIIA will be renegotiated with the unions in 2012.

Alcombright and his staff have been meeting with the public employees' insurance group for more than a month. Both sides said the talks were amicable, if not always agreeable. "No one raised their voice," said Alcombright, adding that parley boded well for upcoming contract negotiations.

"We're very pleased with the settlement on many different levels," said Brian Kelly, president of the North Adams Police Association Local 382. "We're very grateful to the mayor for reviewing the trust fund, and then cooperating with the unions and treating us with dignity and respect throughout the negotiations and bringing it to an amicable vote and putting a very ugly situation in the past for the city of North Adams."

Moving to MIIA will actually mean a 6 percent savings of about $500,000 and will cost the city about the same as it would to properly fund the self-insurance account for the year. The city has budgeted $3.5 million for insurance next year.

MIIA is the nonprofit insurance arm of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and has 125 municipalities participating in its membership-driven trust fund. It offers at lower cost the same Blue Cross Blue Shield plans the city currently has; an affordable, higher-deductible HMO will be added as an option. The plans cover the seven public employee unions and nonunion workers as well.

"It allows us to stay with what we have and I think that's what makes people most nervous, if they have to change what they're doing, if they have to change their doctor," said North Adams Teachers Association President Susan Chilson.

The agreement allows the city to focus on bigger things, said Alcombright, and a legal process that could mean shelling out "potentially several millions of contractually and legally mandated costs."

"I want to applaud this administration," said City Council Chairman Ronald Boucher. "We've inherited a mess and to the mayor's credit, he didn't point fingers he kept his sights straight ahead and just moved forward to find a resolution to this problem."
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Whiplash Weather in Store for the Berkshires

Mother Nature is making sure there's a snowy background for Friday night's tree lightings in North Adams and Pittsfield. The National Weather Service is predicting a few inches and up to 5 inches in the higher elevations, with steady snowfall until 10 p.m. 
 
Motorists should beware of slippery roads and low visibility, especially Friday night.
 
A number of school districts have canceled after-school programs for Friday: Hoosac Valley Regional; Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter; Mount Greylock Regional; Drury High; and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union (early dismissal, too).
 
But wait, this is the Berkshires so you know the weather will change on the dime — and that will happen at the beginning of next week. 
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