Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
Cloudy
57°
Cloudy
Hi 66° | Lo 43°

Health plan change to reduce Northampton budget gap

Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz, seen here discussing the budget March 12, told the City Council on Thursday that he intends to move the city into the state Group Insurance Commission to save $900,000. That would reduce the projected gap in next year's budget to $1.5 million.
SARAH CROSBY

Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz, seen here discussing the budget March 12, told the City Council on Thursday that he intends to move the city into the state Group Insurance Commission to save $900,000. That would reduce the projected gap in next year's budget to $1.5 million. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

Narkewicz said he intends to move the city into the state Group Insurance Commission, a $900,000 savings that will lower the budget gap for fiscal 2014 to $1.5 million.

He said that’s still a significant gap and there are several unknowns related to the budget, but the new development pushes the fiscal picture in the right direction.

“That’s a significant change to the good,” Narkewicz said. “Obviously, not all the way to the good.”

Narkewicz said he intends use some of the savings to help the schools close their $1.25 million gap. School officials have proposed cutting up to 30 teaching positions districtwide.

“Initially, we’re going to let the school department know that a sizeable portion of that will go to help them close their gap,” Narkewicz said. “That would be a priority area given the cuts they’re facing.”

That will come as welcome news for the many high school teachers who attended the council’s Thursday meeting to describe what losing 10 teachers might mean for students and the morale of the school in general.

“The cuts that are coming, as you know, are devastating” said Susan Crago, an English teacher. She urged the council to consider allocating more funds to the schools.

Some teachers, like science teacher Donna Canuel-Browne, talked about the cumulative effect several years of cuts have had at the school. She said staff is smaller, class sizes are larger, and professional training is lacking, to name a few.

“Despite these cuts, and lack of financial and professional support, the faculty of Northampton High School has maintained a standard of excellence,” Browne said. “As you now threaten to further cut our staff, you make it impossible to protect our students from the lack of resources.”

Technology and woodshop teacher Robert Melnick, who brought a table and other items made by his students as props, said the classes he teaches, as well as other art and technology classes, are vitally important to students.

“It’s worth keeping these choices for our students untouched,” Melnick said.

In announcing that he will move the city into the GIC, Narkewicz took advantage of a local option, approved by the council last fall, under the state’s new municipal health insurance reform law.

The city is facing a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs for the coming year, based on initial quotes. That amounts to about $1 million. The GIC’s projected increase is in the 3 percent range.

The mayor said the GIC will provide employees with a plan comparable to the one they now have with Health New England, which also offers insurance packages through the GIC.

Specific plans will now be vetted by a new Public Employee Committee that includes representatives from each bargaining unit, retirees and the city’s Insurance Advisory Commission. The city must share 25 percent of the first-year savings with employees.

Because the GIC only allows enrollment twice a year, the city will ink a deal with Health New England for the first six months of next fiscal year, and then transition to the GIC plan starting Jan. 1, 2014.

The plan will likely help the city keep health insurance increases in check in future years by taking advantage of the GIC’s group buying power.

“We believe this is a very responsible move to make,” Narkewicz said.

The mayor cautioned after his presentation that there are still many unknowns surrounding the budget. The next big piece should fall into place within two weeks when the Legislature releases its budget and gives the city a clearer local aid picture.

Other issues that have yet to be budgeted for include new contracts with the school unions for next fiscal year, with the police patrol and sergeants union for this year and next, and with the firefighters union.

Comments
Legacy Comments3

Just make sure that you have Health New England as an option through GIC. That company has been an incredible relief to my husband and me as we have navigated the health care system over the last few years. Without their support, we would be dipping into our retirement funds at an alarming rate. I have never had anything good to say about any insurance company; HNE gets our rave review and we don't want to ever have to leave that consumer friendly company! Jerry & Nancy Bouthilette

Good idea Mr. Mayor. I thought I heard Washington say the economy is coming back. Really? Where? Add this change in insurance to the proposed hike in income tax from Boston, $4.00 gas, etc etc. Someone is either lieing or incompetent.

This is a wise move. Good for the Mayor. Those of us who are in the GIC like the options we have. I've always found it weird to sit in the doctor's office next to a City employee, knowing that both of us have the same Health New England coverage, but that the costs of his health insurance plan are greater than mine.

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.