Town Board Addresses Health Insurance Benefits

The Pawling Town Board met on Wednesday, July 10 to address a full agenda of pressing issues within the community. The evening would see Board members pass resolutions relating to the Route 22 Sewer Map, Plan, and Report, the purchase of new Highway Department equipment, and the ongoing issue of retirement medical benefits for employees and elected officials. Furthermore, the session would also provide updates on a recent situation at Lakeside Park and the introduction of two local laws concerning special events and short-term rental properties in the area.

On the subject of Lakeside Park, Chief Constable Michael Kelly would appear before the Board to speak on the issue of local youths who were recently found swimming unsupervised after regular park hours. The youths were reprimanded by the constables patrolling the park and their parents will be contacted, but Mr. Kelly urged the Board to take action to prevent further trespassing in the park after hours. “We need to address this situation, if something were to happen, we’re liable,” explained Mr. Kelly. Town Supervisor James Schmitt promised swift action to address the issue, citing concerns for public safety within the park. In addition to notifying the parents of the recent offenders, officials will also continue an increased constable presence in Lakeside Park after normal hours, and are considering placing cameras to better monitor the property. “We’re not taking this lightly at all,” said Schmitt.

Elsewhere on the agenda, the Board would pass a resolution to move forward with the Map, Plan, and Report for the extension of the sewer lines south on Route 22. Officials have tasked the preparation of the report to the Laberge Group, an engineering, planning, and grant writing firm based out of Albany. The Map, Plan, and Report is the next step towards the extension of the sewer lines on Route 22 south of the Village, which officials believe will help spur economic development.

Next on the agenda was the approval of a resolution to purchase two new ten wheeler trucks for the Town Highway Department. Acting on the recommendation of the Highway Superintendent, the Board approved the purchase of two 2019 114SD Henderson Tandem Conventional Chassis trucks from New York Freightliner at a cost of $237,728.50 each. The vehicles will come equipped with cross conveyers, plows, and leveling wings. In total, the purchase will cost $475,457.00. The vehicles will help to alleviate the workload on some of the older trucks in the department, and officials expressed an interest in possibly taking back maintenance of roads currently serviced by Dutchess County.

Next, the Board would enter into a lengthy discussion on medical insurance benefits for retirees. The issue of insurance benefits for retired Town employees and elected officials has been an ongoing source of consternation within the community for several years. “We have been working on health care for a very long time here. There are a lot of moving parts here,” explained Supervisor Schmitt.

The resolution put before the Board stated that employees will be eligible for medical insurance coverage in retirement, if on their date of retirement from the Town’s service the individual was hired or took office prior to January 1, 2011, has ten continuous years of service to the Town, and is over 55 years of age. Officials who took office or accepted employment after January 1, 2011 must be over 55 years of age and have at least 20 years of continuous service. The resolution would go on to explain that elected officials who took office after January 1, 2018 will not be eligible for medical insurance in retirement.

“What we have here is a resolution to eliminate the lifetime benefit for all elected officials,” said Supervisor Schmitt. “What we worked on as a Board with our legal council is determining the proper spot to cut it off. You have folks that have worked here for a very long time, and it’s hard to compare someone with twenty years of service to someone with five months of service. I feel comfortable in taking this resolution and starting from my first term. One of the things I ran on was controlling this benefit going forward.” The resolution allows for a tiered system of awarding retirement medical benefits for employees and elected officials that were installed under previous arrangements.

The resolution would lead to mixed feelings from other Board members. Councilman Reid McGrath spoke in opposition of the resolution, saying “I still feel that the Town Clerk and the Highway Superintendent should be excluded from this. I think we’re really close to having the solution, and I’m happy we’re still talking about it. If you have a supremely qualified 30 year old who wants to run for clerk and they do it for 20 years, they should be eligible.”

Councilman Phil DeRosa would call for a further examination of the entire insurance arrangement. “I just think the whole benefit package needs to be looked at,” he said. “This is just a small part of it, and I’m not in favor of piecemealing it.”

Councilman Jimbo McCarthy and Deputy Supervisor Bill Johnson would speak in support of the resolution. “I agree with this,” said McCarthy. “If someone new comes in off the street I have no problem with this, but I want to make sure that the current employees were eligible for these benefits if they decide to run for Town Clerk or Highway Superintendent.”

Councilman Johnson summed up his viewpoint on the issue by saying “It’s time to end it. We’ve listened to the public.” Ultimately the resolution would pass by a vote of 4-1, with Councilman McGrath voting against.

During the Public Comment Portion of the evening, several attendants voiced their displeasure about the Board’s decision to not completely eliminate retirement health benefits. “I think that the way this was done was not right,” said Glenn Carey. “The Town Clerk and the Highway Superintendent positions, regardless of whether they have a structured hourly position or not, they’re elected by the people, and the people will determine if they’re elected year after year.” Mr. Carey would go on to address the Board, saying “you guys are part time workers. You have full time jobs, and you’re not putting in over 40 hours of work on this job. You’re classified as full time only so you get benefits. The change that should have been made here was that Town Board members should be changed from full time to part time.”Mr. Carey’s comments were echoed by Holmes resident Marty Mygan, who stated “if your benefits are costing the taxpayer, that’s beyond ridiculous.”

Going forward, the Board will consider further alterations to the insurance and compensation packages ahead of the preparation of next year’s budget. “We’re working on it every day, we’ve made great changes tonight,” said Supervisor Schmitt. “I understand your frustrations. It’s one of the main reasons I ran.”

Finally, the Board would approve resolutions introducing Local Laws #2 and #3 of 2019, which concern special events and short term rentals in Pawling. The laws are being introduced to better define zoning and occupancy regulations concerning short term rentals of less than 30 days and AirBnB rental properties. The laws will be submitted to the Town Planning Board and the Dutchess County Planning Board before being presented for a Public Hearing at the next Town Board meeting to be held on Wednesday, August 12 at 7:00 p.m. at the Holmes Whaley Lake Civic Association, RR 292 # 227, Holmes.