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Health insurance the biggest factor in Belmont budget increase

November 11, 2009
BELMONT — Belmont's proposed operating budget, approved by selectmen and now in the hands of the Budget Committee, is 4.3 percent higher than last year, mainly due to rising health insurance costs.

Prior to accepting and forwarding a $6.88 million operating budget to the Budget Committee, the Board of Selectmen discussed the additional $400,000 in health insurance costs.

Through the Local Government Center, town employees are insured through Blue Choice/Mathew Thornton. Currently, employees are charged a $5 co-pay for office visits, and a mail-away prescription program has them paying $1 for prescriptions.

"That plan is increasing 16.4 percent in 2010," Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told the selectmen at their meeting last week, noting that last year's increases hadn't been as bad as they had feared, and she had hoped this year's increases would be similarly minimal. "16.4 was certainly a big surprise."

The annual cost for town will be $292,486.20 for non-union employees and $525,365.16 for union employees. The town pays 10 percent of the cost of the premium.

Beaudin outlined a couple of other cost-saving options within the current program, as the town is committed to LGC through 2010. However, she said, the changes could only be applied to the non-union employees for now, because union contracts prohibit health insurance changes for union employees.

The first option would only change prescription costs but would bring the town's costs down to $277,827.48 for non-union employees and $499,024.20 for union employees, making the increase 10 percent rather than 16.4 percent. The mail-away prescription program would have employees paying $10 for generic prescriptions, $20 for preferred brand prescriptions, and $40 for name brand.

The second option would increase prescription costs as well, to the same amount as the first option. However, it would also change office co-pays from $5 to $20, as well as a couple of other co-pays, such as $150 for a trip to the emergency room instead of $25.

The second option would cost the town $257,536.56 for non-union employees and $463,888.08 for union employees, a 4.2 percent increase over last year.

Beaudin said the town is moving forward with union negotiations, but at this time, the language in current contract needs to remain, so the programs' cost differences would not be as high as the numbers she provided.

The selectmen also discussed curbside recycling, which once again will be on the warrant as a separate article.

"It's been one of those things that I'd just assume put in front of the voters," Cormier said, noting that voters are aware that any "extras" increase the bottom line. "It's all what value they put on (recycling)."

The total appropriated budget in 2009, including capital requests, was $8,398,063. The 2010 proposed budget, prior to cuts made by the selectmen, was $8,764,163. The selectmen made several cuts in capital requests, including heavy equipment requests from the Department of Public Works; the Municipal Facilities Fund; Bridge Repairs; and Assessing/Property Tax funding for the 2012 revaluation. The board also agreed to stop putting away money toward the BRATT project, considering the trail work has not yet begun.

These cuts brought the proposed capital requests to just over $1 million and the total 2010 budget closer to $8 million.

The selectmen's finalized budget has now been passed on to the Budget Committee, and the final budget that appears on the warrant will be the committee's.

Town of Alexandria
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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