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Jul 7, 2015 5:41 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Eliminates Free Lifetime Benefits For Elected Officials

Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, left, and Trustee Ralph Urban during the Village Board's reorganizational meeting on Monday night. KYLE CAMPBELL
Jul 7, 2015 5:41 PM

Westhampton Beach Village will no longer provide free health care for its elected officials.

In their first meeting of the new fiscal year on Monday night, Village Board members passed a resolution authorizing sweeping changes to their health and dental benefits package. Mayor Maria Moore and the four trustees can still receive coverage through the village, but they must now pay their own premiums out of pocket, which cost more than $23,000 annually for both health and dental insurance.

The overhaul, which passed unanimously, also strips all current and future board members of the ability to earn lifetime health insurance through the village. Prior to the change, board members who served at least 10 consecutive years qualified for lifetime benefits.

“I’m very pleased that the trustees were in favor of it and it was voted through,” Ms. Moore said. “I think it was a burden on the community to have its taxes go toward paying for it. It was the right time for it and it was the right thing to do.”

Ms. Moore said she and the trustees, namely fellow board members Ralph Urban and Charlie Palmer, had been discussing the change for the past few months because of concerns over the rising cost of health care.

Mr. Urban said the board is working on addressing health insurance costs elsewhere in the village budget, including efforts to get employees in the Westhampton Beach Police and Public Works departments to start contributing to their premiums. He said negotiations are ongoing with the village’s Department of Public Works, though he declined to offer specifics.

Mr. Urban said he’s advocated for benefits reform since first being elected in 2012, noting that the associated costs have skyrocketed since the plans’ inception. To illustrate his point during a phone interview Tuesday, Mr. Urban, a retired teacher, said his health insurance only cost his district $300 a year when he started teaching 40 years ago.

“Historically, when it first started, it was a nice benefit and a nice package to show appreciation, and it wasn’t that expensive,” Mr. Urban said. “Over the past few years that cost has gone up dramatically.”

Last year alone Westhampton Beach Village spent nearly $100,000 on health and dental insurance for both current and former board members, according to Village Clerk Elizabeth Lindtvit. Only two sitting board members—former-Village Trustees Hank Tucker and Patricia DiBenedetto—received both health and dental insurance last year, costing the village $23,355.60 each. Meanwhile, Ms. Moore and Mr. Palmer, the deputy mayor, each received dental insurance only, costing the village $1,649.28 each. Mr. Urban took no benefits.

Additionally, the village shelled out $47,077.68 to pay for health insurance for three former mayors—Robert Strebel, Arma “Ham” Andon and Stuart Tobin—and two former trustees, Ora Belle “Ridgie” Barnett and Harold Williams, all of whom still qualify for lifetime benefits.

Prior to Monday’s resolution, Village Board members who served 10 consecutive years in office were considered vested and, therefore, qualified for free lifetime benefits through the village. Prior to the board modifying the law in 2007, mayors and trustees only needed five years of service to qualify.

“That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of someone’s life,” Ms. Moore said. “We needed a clean break.”

Had Mr. Tucker been reelected, and completed his fifth two-year term of office, he also would have been eligible to receive lifetime benefits from the village.

In addition to Ms. Moore, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Urban, the resolution to drop the automatic benefits was approved by new Village Trustees Brian Tymann and Rob Rubio. Both Mr. Tymann and Mr. Rubio took their oaths of office on Monday night. Right now, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Urban are the senior members of the board, boasting three years of experience each, followed by Ms. Moore, who is starting her second year in office.

Mr. Tymann and Mr. Rubio, who ran for office together on the Our Village Party ticket, both pushed for health insurance reform while on the campaign trail. It was not immediately clear if either intended to sign up for health or dental insurance through the village.

Though the wheels of change at Village Hall were already in motion, Mr. Tymann said he was glad that both he and Mr. Rubio could help overhaul the village’s health insurance policy.

“It’s an example of how Rob and I work as well as how we can work together with the other three members of the board to get things done,” Mr. Tymann said. “It was being talked about and in the works, and it was something that Rob and I wanted to accomplish, so the five of us said, ‘Why wait? There’s no reason not to do this right now.’”

Previously, Ms. Moore discussed the possibility of asking the village’s full-time employees to start contributing to their own health insurance premiums, an idea that Mr. Urban said remains on the table.

In the current year’s $9.8 million budget, the village has set aside about $1.3 million—or 13 percent of the total spending plan—to cover the medical, dental and hospital insurance costs of its employees.

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Wow, first selfless act from local politicians in a long time. Makes you wonder what all the other previous WHB Trustees did. Under them the Town is dead, can't do anything regarding freedom, Police debacle...
By lirider (288), Westhampton Beach on Jul 8, 15 8:20 AM
Good for them...the rest of the country needs to follow suit!
By sandydog21 (195), Southampton on Jul 8, 15 8:45 AM
2 members liked this comment
Congratulations to Mayor Moore. In addition to everything she has been doing to improve the village infrastructure, she is undertaking the serious homework she needs to do to lay the groundwork for sustainable growth and viability. I also appreciate the family-focused events for residents and visitors she has personally initiated (Monday movies, Fridays on the beach, kayaking). What a difference a short year has made. Best of luck to this refreshed group of village leadership.I hope people will ...more
By CountryMouse (8), westhampton beach on Jul 8, 15 8:59 AM
2 members liked this comment
Are you her husband or do you live on Oneck?
By realistic (472), westhampton on Jul 8, 15 7:31 PM
best thing ive heard all day

the revolution has begun
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jul 8, 15 11:09 AM
This needs to be across the municipal spectrum statewide. As well as eliminating the accrual of sick vacation and personal days then cashing them in. It's abusive and why our taxes are so high. Use it or lose it. This would never fly in the private sector.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jul 8, 15 12:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
Kudos to the Mayor for taking action which was long overdue! Lifetime benefits? Ridiculous!
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Jul 8, 15 6:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
Not a good move. Whereas people like the mayoress may have adequate health insurance due to private coverage from their spouse's policy, others who might consider standing for office do not. This decision discourages those not so blessed. A better alternative would have been to ask officeholders who are already alternatively insured to advise the village to exclude them from coverage.

Additionally, provision of lifetime coverage for those who have served for ten years or more is appropriate. ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 9, 15 4:40 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 9, 15 3:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
It once was a privilege and an honor to be elected to office not a career choice. What do you think, Highhat?
By unclemilt (57), southampton on Jul 10, 15 1:37 PM
It once was a privilege and an honor to be elected to office not a career choice. What do you think, Highhat?
By unclemilt (57), southampton on Jul 10, 15 7:38 PM