They rolled the dice and came out ahead. Ignoring concerns raised by their town budget officer and the Office of the State Comptroller, members of the Republican majority on the East Hampton Town Board voted last month to lower projected estimates for employee health benefits in the 2014 budget.
Budget officer Len Bernard, wary of uncertainty in the insurance environment, originally budgeted for a 10 percent increase – the full numbers for next year weren't known during budget development. Staff from the state comptroller's office approved the projection as prudent, given the times. If the number came in lower, the balance could be moved to the contingency fund or saved for future health insurance spikes.
During a subsequent budget work session, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson called for reducing the estimated increase to five percent, which would shave more than a half million dollars from the budget. New York State Health Insurance Program staff were recommending less than a two percent increase, he reasoned.
Town officials didn't have the exact figures at the time of the vote to adopt the budget last month. They got them last week. According to a release from Wilkinson, beginning in January, the Empire Plan rates for participating employees health care will increase, in aggregate, 1.8 percent. The New York State Department of Civil Service announced the approved increase last Friday.
"If we look at it now, after the November 29 announcement and final budget approval, there still remains close to $300,000 of cushion," Wilkinson said in a statement released this week. "As a result, I will recommend that now that we have the confirmed number from NYSHIP, the excess of the budgeted amount (5 percent) and the 1.8 percent announced increase must go to a dedicated reserve for benefit purposes."
He continued, "Once again, from a budgeting point of view, we are glad we reduced the current and future tax liability for our residents. Absent of insisting on maintaining the financial disciplines which saved us in the first place, history could very easily repeat itself."
The supervisor advised community members to visit the town website where they could view taped work sessions discussing the budget.