Letter: City Council Health Care Benefits Must Cease

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To the Editor:

Recently, the Selectmen for the town of Cheshire made a cost saving and diligent decision to eliminate health insurance for part-time elected and appointed officials, thus saving the taxpayers an estimated $10,000 to 15,000 annually. 

While Massachusetts state law requires cities and towns to offer health insurance to any employee who works a minimum of 20 hours per week, elected and appointed officials are excluded from this requirement. Due to the spiraling cost associated with health insurance, many other cities and towns are taking a hard look at this issue. 
In 2010, newly elected North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright requested a Financial Management Review of the city's finances. It was performed by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services, which is a state agency that supports local cities and towns to achieve sound fiscal management through guidance, training and oversight. Although many suggestions were made that would result in significant cost savings to North Adams, one that stands out was the recommendation to thoroughly review health insurance benefits that were being offered to part-time elected officials as well as board members and appointed officials. 
The report stated that health insurance cost to the taxpayers for elected and appointed officials as well as board members was estimated to be $50,000 for fiscal year 2011. A recent public records request revealed that although in 2010 the change was made by Mayor Alcombright to discontinue health insurance benefits for board members, City Council members continue to be offered health insurance benefits at a significant expense to the taxpayers of North Adams. 
Currently, North Adams is contributing $38,616 annually towards health insurance benefits for two councilors. And, in 2018, with the addition of four new councilors, that figure could possibly inflate to an additional annual taxpayer burden of $77,232 should all four new councilors choose to purchase healthcare through the city. This is simply unacceptable given the amount of tax and fee increases homeowners have had to absorb for the last eight years. The taxpayers deserve much stronger fiscal management. Massachusetts has an outstanding healthcare marketplace from which anyone can purchase health insurance at a reasonable cost. There's simply no justification for North Adams to continue with this practice.
In 2018, a new mayor will be in office as well as four new city councilors. One can only hope that a new culture of financial responsibility will emerge. The new administration as well as the new city council must stand up and work in the best interest of the hardworking residents of this great city.

Dan Peters
North Adams, Mass.




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Trail Conservancy Cautions Pandemic Care When Hiking

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Although most of the Appalachian Trail is still open, hikers are asked to practice common sense during the pandemic while on the trail or to just stay home.
COVID-19 has challenged people to find new ways to stay active while practicing social distancing and local trail volunteer Cosmo Catalano, Jr said although folks are encouraged to stay home, common sense needs to be used to maintain social distancing. 
"The AT, along with other trails on public lands provides an important resource for people to get outdoors in a healthy way," he said. "With care and common sense, it's relatively easy for people to maintain appropriate social distance and enjoy the outdoors."
Catalano said the trail organization structure is complicated and is organized by a number of entities. In Massachusetts about half the trail is on state forest lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The other half is on lands managed by the National Park Service.
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