Health benefits don’t seem to be going away anytime soon for Herkimer County legislators and some part-time employees.
While mention has been made in the past about reconsidering benefits for county legislators, a county committee recently passed a resolution approving slightly increased insurance costs, bypassing conversation on whom to include.
The cost to cover the 13 county legislators who take the county health insurance plan at a 10 percent premium is $194,000 — which includes any spouses or family members on the plan.
Three others take a $4,860 per year stipend in lieu of the benefits.
One county Legislator, Helen Rose, D-Herkimer, does not receive the insurance or stipend and said more conversation and possible reform should be considered in regard to the matter.
“As an elected legislator I consider this service as my passion, not a job,” she said in an email.“Salary of $6,500 is a bonus. To take another $20,000 health insurance perk is obscene.”
Herkimer County legislators receive a salary of $6,500 per year. The chairman of the Legislature Vincent Bono, R-Schuyler, receives $12,000.
The health insurance plans are offered to full-time employees as well as county attorneys, the Stop DWI coordinator and county legislators, who are all part-time.
The current plan is estimated to cost $6.2 million next year — up about two percent — for all county employees.
Pros and cons
Even though the costs from legislators does not make up the bulk of the health insurance expenses — the county Department of Social Services is at the top costing roughly $1.9 million — experts and county legislators vary in their opinions on whether political officials should receive the benefits.
“The assumption of having a part-time legislator is that they’re citizen legislators that hold down a full-time job,” said E. J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy.“If they’re retired, they have some other health support or Medicaid.”
Others contend that because of the low salary legislators receive, it’s a fair trade-off as well as something that can attract candidates.
“I do believe it’s appropriate,” said Legislator Patrick Russell, R-Old Forge and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which has facilitated the budget workshops.“We’re paid so little in proportion to what we do.”
Russell receives county health benefits.
“It’s certainly a major incentive to attract legislators,” said Gerald Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz professor and politics watcher.“The aggregated compensation from benefits likely exceeds the over compensation from salary alone.”
The last time county officials adjusted the stipulations of the health benefits was in 2009 when the payment of benefits went from zero to a 10 percent premium for all county employees.
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