January 21 2016
Town Meeting to Vote on Two Bylaw Changes Aimed at Changing Handling and Reporting of Town Employee Benefits
By: Rich Hosford
Burlington Town Meeting will be asked to vote on two general bylaw articles on employee insurance that the author says are meant to increase transparency and give the legislative body more control on costs.
The articles are number 24 and 25 and both were written by Town Meeting member Larry Way of Precinct 5.
If Article 24 is passed it would change the way the costs of employee benefits are reported in the annual town budget. Essentially, rather than having health insurance and other benefit costs be listed as one line item for the whole town, those estimated costs would be listed as items under each department’s budget to show how much each department’s employees cost taxpayers.
Way said this is important because it would give Town Meeting members a better idea of how much each department is costing the town and would highlight the cost of employees to the department heads.
“I’ve asked department heads how much their employees’ benefits cost and they say they don’t know,” Way said in an interview with BNEWS. “No department head should be oblivious as to what their employees are costing the town. Also if we have this information in the open then people can see it and make better decisions.”
The language of the warrant article is below. It is important to note that after conversations with members of the town government Way revised the article to take into account some concerns and therefor what is listed here differs slightly from what was printed in the January Town Meeting warrant. Those differences in languages appear in boldface.
“To see if the Town will modify Article I, Section 8.0
8.0 All budgets and special articles dealing with any municipal expenses shall be submitted whenever possible to the Town Accountant, or other appropriate bodies as set forth in Chapter 41, Section 59, of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by December l5 of each year.
8.0 All budgets and special articles dealing with any municipal expenses including the costs associated with salaries, employment taxes, employee benefits, pensions, insurances and other post-employment benefits shall be submitted by each department (using reasonable estimates if determined actuals are not possible). Costs of Health Insurance shall be considered estimates and may be amended by the Administration without the approval of Town Meeting due to employees requesting differing plans during the fiscal year. These expenses shall be submitted to the Town Accountant, or other appropriate bodies as set forth in Chapter 41, Section 59, of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by December l5 of each year.”
Article 25 of the Town Meeting warrant aims at ensuring that the costs accrued to the town by a department by providing benefits to an employee hired with funds other than the town budget (e.g. a grant) must be covered by that department.
Here is the language of the article. Again, this has been modified from the original printed in the warrant.
“To see if the Town will modify Article I, Section 8.0 to add the following paragraph:
8.1 Each numbered line account of the Annual Budget shall be a separate appropriation. Any transfers between such numbered line accounts shall be made only by vote of the Town Meeting, except as otherwise provided by statute.
8.1.1 If a numbered account (department) hires a new employee that was not accounted for in the budget, but uses other funds such as grants or gifts to hire the employee, the department will not only be responsible for the cost of the salary, but must also assume the costs associated with employment including employment taxes, pensions, insurances and other post-employment benefits that must be approved through the town budget process. Transfers from a department budget to an account that pays for such costs of employment may be made at the department’s request without Town Meeting’s approval.
If such grants or gifts are anticipated to be used for the employment of benefited personnel the department must include these costs of employment in their proposed budget for the fiscal year.”
“What I’m trying to stop here is when a department makes a hire and doesn’t use town funds they don’t report it,” Way claimed. “They then go down and sign the employee up for town benefits, which Town Meeting has not been approved.”
During its January 11 meeting the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 to recommend Town Meeting vote against these articles (they were looking at the original versions). Selectmen Chris Hartling was not in the room for the vote.
During that meeting Town Accountant Paul Sagarino said the changes made by the articles would require the town to “start from scratch” in how the budget is prepared. He also said he would like to see decisions like these “go through a more deliberative process.”
Selectman Bob Hogan also spoke against the changes.
“I think this will make a lot of extra work that is unnecessary for the department heads,” he said. “Also if you break down the insurance numbers people will lose the “big picture” of how much we spend as a town. We would lose that transparency.”
The January Town Meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, January 25 in the Burlington High School auditorium.