|Pittsfield Councilors Reject Eliminating Their Health Insurance|
|By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff|
03:58AM / Wednesday, June 24, 2020
|The City Council rejected an attempt to remove health insurance as a benefit for elected officials. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council rejected a petition from President Peter Marchetti that would eliminate health insurance for elected officials.
The council voted 8-3 Tuesday to file a petition that would ask the city solicitor to draft language that would eliminate that benefit.
"This would add a barrier for people who may not be able to run, so if we can make that available to people I think that is what we should do," Councilor at Large Earl Persip said.
Only Councilors at Large Peter White and Marchetti, and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi opposed filing the petition.
Marchetti said he had planned to bring forth the petition during the budget hearings and noted it would eliminate around $50,000 at this time.
"We had a sneak preview of this discussion at the budget hearing and I heard that it was unfair and was a threat but I think this is a financial reality," he said.
Marchetti ran through some numbers based on some "what ifs" and noted if all 11 councilors took family plans, it could costs the city nearly $210,000 a year.
He felt with some tough budget discussions last week they had to consider eliminating a cost that could potentially equal a few teachers or police officers.
If a councilor serves for 10 years, he or she becomes vested for life, possibly compounding the cost.
He said this proposal would only affect those making less than $15,000 from the city. This would allow the mayor and the city clerk to continue to collect insurance. He also said it would go into effect in 2022.
"That way we could take all of the personalities out of this and it would not be a threat to anyone that is here," he said.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio was first to come out against the petition and said he did not want to base a decision on "what ifs" and did not think a situation like this would ever actually arise
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said he uses city insurance and felt this is not the time to kick councilors and possibly their families off of it.
"I think to spring this on the council in the middle of a pandemic ... you are talking about taking away health benefits and I have a real problem with that," he said. "I have a real problem with the motivation."
He noted the City Council has not received a raise since 1992. He said it is a demanding job and he felt others may not run in the future if health insurance is eliminated.
The effect on potential candidates was also Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon's concern.
"I don't think this is ever a numbers game and I don't think we ever should govern by just numbers because there are people and families in our community attached to those numbers," she said. "There are people who need that little extra and they should be represented on our council. We are a representative democracy and when we put barriers up so people can't run we are not doing our democracy any good."
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he uses city insurance and although he is a light user, the insurance made running more attractive to him.
"I collect the city health insurance but I have also had a million jobs over the last two years so the stability that often comes with health insurance is nice," he said.
Moon said she would rather take a stipend reduction and felt the petition felt retaliatory. She called back to the budget hearing at which councilors asked the mayor to forgo her raise.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi agreed.
"We should not be pressured by other elected officials. To me, this is really petty," he said. "We should not be threatened when we don't make the right vote."
Ward 5 Council Patrick Kavey thought the same thing and felt the petition was irresponsible.
"I will not support something that potentially puts the health and safety of others at risk," he said. "Discussing stripping people of their insurance during a global pandemic is not something a leader would do so thank you for your perspective."
Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi clarified with the city solicitor that if the council asked him to draft the language, it would then go out to a citywide vote.
Beyond the procedural question, she stated she would not support even sending it off to be drafted. She said she would not support kicking anyone and their families off their insurance
"It feels icky it does not feel like something we should be doing," she said.
Marchetti stepped down from the chair during the discussion and White, the vice president, took over in his place. After the vote, he returned to his seat.