Cohasset Selectmen to scrutinize OPEB

Selectman Steve Gaumer told his board the latest number for Cohasset’s “Other Post-Employment Benefits” OPEB debt is approximately $35 million. It wasn’t news to them. The town has started to put money aside for this debt, but not enough to make a dent. Real relief will come from the state, Gaumer told selectmen at last Tuesday’s meeting.

There has been a lot of talk about trying to catch this fish by its tail and now selectmen appear to moving on it. Gaumer is right, this is the elephant in the room, but it is the rest of the herd on the roof that’s creating a real threat to collapse it further.

Selectman Martha Gjesteby noted that the legislature is already working on OPEB.

Gaumer said the state would probably settle on a two-tiered system. But he said more importantly, town officials involved in union negotiations, and town meeting itself, have to become part and parcel of the plan to set objectives for dealing with OPEB, objectives that are definable and measurable. “It’s our charge to hold management of the town to achieving our goals. Tax policy, expenditures, all comes under this.” He said the board has been doing this, but it had never been a stated policy of the board.

Select Chair Fred Koed agreed there definitely had to be a partnership at every level.

When you talk to any resident about OPEB, they throw up their hands and say let the FED and the State handle it. And to a large extent, they’re right.

It was news to this writer at the selectmen’s last meeting that a three-man committee had been established to look at OPEB. We have a call into the acting town manager with regard to whether that committee is the acting town manager’s advisory committee or a selectman appointed committee. In any case, it’s a good thing. There is no question the Town has to get a hold on how to handle its benefit package (these are benefits outside the pension itself) that includes health insurance and medial, dental and Medicare Part B. Pension debt is another piece of this pie.

Selectman Karen Quigley wanted to know what the committee was charged to do. She said the charge had to be realistic. No one was sure what the charge was or if the committee had yet met.

On the surface, Gaumer’s plan seems like a reasonable starting point. Come up with a plan to play catch up on $35 Million in unfunded health care liability in let’s say, ten years. At the same time, pay the new charges being added to the liability at $2 Million a year. Then set goals and priorities and policy for all the other items to the policy-making list.

Koed said OPEB was growing at $2 Million a year “We’d have to have, roughly, another $1.6 Million to deal with this. Milanoski said the state was looking to change that picture with legislation that would reduce Cohasset’s $35 Million debt to $27 Million. Koed argued that the town would still need $2 Million just to keep it stable.

This liability stems from decisions made by previous elected and appointed officials and town meetings that negotiated and voted for contracts that were unsustainable. Every town and the Federal government did this, so we’re in good company.

The Senior Center Committee and its plan for a new Senior Center is a case in point. We are going to be asked to buy something in the very near future that we did not build. It is likely to be very expensive. It could be as large as an elementary school building. Some of the programs it plans to run will pay for themselves, and that’s good. It may bring in seniors from Scituate and Hingham. If there’s a marketing study, citizens of Cohasset need to have knowledge of it and find comfort in it. Fall town meeting could be a touch-all-bases point if the advisory committee follows through to take the question to town meeting. Voters may support it at any cost, but a senior center is more likely to win if voters are given some choices. Maybe an installment plan approach would be good.

OPEB and other goals and objectives will be dealt with at a 4-6 hour special meeting to be scheduled in the near future. Selectmen have told the acting town manager to hire a facilitator to direct the discussion. The public may be invited to listen but not participate. Goals and objectives categories are Financial Management, HR/Personnel Management, Review & Update Policies and Procedures, Town Manager and Police Chief Searches, Town Counsel/Legal Services and Community Communications

© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed