The gloves were off in Greenport Village Hall tonight as the board voted down, 3 to 2, a resolution that would have ended current health care benefits for the mayor and trustees, effective December 31.
The resolution would have directed the village treasurer to reserve the funds for increased staffing or capital improvements.
Trustees Doug Roberts and Jack Martilotta asked for the resolution in their monthly report, stating that they believed village taxpayers should not bear the cost of trustees’ healthcare.
Mayor George Hubbard prefaced the vote by saying he wanted to clarify that the overall cost to the village for health care for trustees and himself is currently $66,744, not the $125,000 “that’s thrown out quite often.”
Roberts said the reason the number is lower is because he and Martilotta do not take village healthcare benefits.
The mayor reminded that he’d said in the organizational meeting that he’d be seeking his own coverage. He said he mailed a check on October 1 and his new benefits would begin on November 1.
He then turned to Roberts: “I have a question. Do you take taxpayer-funded health insurance?”
Roberts, whose wife is a teacher, said that he did. Martilotta said that he did, as well.
Hubbard pointed out that while their benefits might not be village-funded, they were taxpayer-funded, all the same.
Next, Trustee Julia Robins said she agreed providing health benefits to trustees could prove “burdensome.” To that end, as of December 1, she said she was switching from a family plan to a single, at a savings of $12,000 per year to taxpayers.
Village Attorney Joe Prokop said the board could not vote on a resolution binding future trustees or mayors.
“Can you cite a law or precedent for that?” Roberts asked.
The attorney said it was case law.
Roberts said he’d like to see proof. “Or else it’s just speculation, Joe,” he said.
He added, “This is not about what each of us do in our personal lives. This is not personal. It’s not about what you do, or what I do. This is about our relationship with the public.”
He and Martilotta knocked on doors during campaign season, Roberts said. “You have no idea how often this came up.” It was the public who asked for the health benefits to be nixed, he said. “The last thing I want to do is to get between someone and their health benefits, but this is about what’s right to do. And if you decide not to vote for this tonight, you’ll have to explain to all of us — why?”
Visibly angered, Hubbard said Roberts and Martilotta had taken to social media, specifically Facebook, over the past three days, “calling out myself and other trustees. You made it personal. The two of you. You made it personal when you started posting those things, every four hours for three days.”
Roberts, Hubbard said, had alleged on Facebook that no trees had been pruned in the village for eight years “because we took health insurance.”
“I pointed out things the board has not done for the people of this village,” Roberts said.
Hubbard said the comments were “inflammatory.”
“I’m sorry you took it personally,” Roberts said.
Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said being told she’d done nothing for eight years was “a little difficult to swallow.”
She said while she believed the current system did need to be changed, with trustees paying in to the healthcare system, she would not vote for the resolution on the table.
The board voted, with Roberts and Martilotta voting “yes” and Hubbard, Robins, and Phillips voting “no.”
Hubbard said the issue would be addressed in the future.
Roberts shook his head.
Before the vote, residents weighed in. Rena Wilhelm said while she understood what it was like to be without health care, she said currently, insurance is far more accessible and less expensive to obtain.
Chatty Allen said perhaps trustees could contribute to their plans but said the decision to keep their health care should not be taken away.
In the days before the vote, Roberts and Martilotta listed the many uses for the funds, should the health insurance be nixed, which included:
- Enforcing housing safety codes in the rental permit law
- Providing a “true” planning function despite rapid influx of development
- Reviewing and making recommendations for updates to the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan
- Reviewing and making recommendations for updates to the rest of village code
- Leading a community development effort that seeks grant funding for capital improvements and new programs
- Pursuing an expansion of the sewer to increase revenue and protect the waters
- Developing a comprehensive road and sidewalk repair plan and effort.
The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act begins in November, so the time to act was now, they had said.