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Council to consider helping employees pay their increased healthcare costs

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By Tom Wilmoth

Employees in the city of Bedford may soon get some relief from rising healthcare costs as the result of a financial report given to City Council last Tuesday.

    At the request of City Manager Charles Kolakowski, council will consider at its next meeting whether to use money saved in personnel expenses to help offset a significant increase the employees on the city’s healthcare plan have had to pay this year.
    Kolakowski said employees with the city have not had a salary increase for several years and staff have worked hard to keep personnel costs down, including delaying filling positions when they came open. That, he said, has helped a reserve fund to be saved up of about $48,000. “Just because a position is budgeted doesn’t mean we’ve rushed out to fill it,” he said.
    Kolakowski said 95 percent of the city employees are on the city’s healthcare plan that is offered, adding that those who aren’t would also receive some form of compensation to help with their expenses, if the plan is approved.
    Staff positions have been reduced  over   the   past  three years, Kolakowski said, noting that when a position becomes vacant it is evaluated before being filled. “City staff in all departments have really stepped up,” he said of them taking on additional responsibilities when a position hasn’t been filled. “They have recognized the need.”
    Vice Mayor Robert Wandrei said with positions being eliminated, employees have had to work harder to make sure services are provided. “It’s only right that we go ahead and make this contribution,” he said of the request.
    Premiums went up significantly this year for those employees on the city’s healthcare plan.
    Those discussions came during a work session by council Tuesday in which members also learned that the city’s general fund budget had seen some stabilization four months into the fiscal year.
    Director of Finance Rosie Jordan told council that sales tax proceeds have been coming in ahead of what was budgeted and that the general fund was in good shape so far.  The same was true for the solid waste and water and sewer funds.
    Jordan said the electric fund has also seen a positive cash flow through October, going into the winter heating season. The city, however, has been taking a hit on power that it has been purchasing. Contracts the city entered into several years ago have meant the city has been purchasing power for more than it has been able to resell that power for on the open market. The city has had to resell more power than anticipated because of the loss of some industrial customers or cutbacks by others. Some of those purchase contracts for power, however, will end this year.
    The city also uses the electric fund to help supplement the general fund, to the tune of about $1.3 million a year. So far, the electric fund has been able to transfer about 30 percent ($387,000) of those proceeds to the general fund. Jordan said she believes the total transfer will be able to be made prior to the end of the fiscal year in June.