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Segarra Proposes Ban On Free Lifetime Health Care, Increase In Employee Pension Contributions

By JENNA CARLESSO

June 07, 2013

HARTFORD Mayor Pedro Segarra is proposing changes to the pension and benefits system designed to save the city money.

City leaders have said pension contributions and the cost of benefits are among the city's biggest expenses.

Segarra is proposing eliminating the EMBERS program, a plan that allows certain employees to receive free lifetime health-care benefits after serving 10 years, at least five of which must be in a qualifying position. The benefit extends to the employees' spouses and other dependents.

There are currently 174 city retirees on the plan, said Maribel La Luz, Segarra's spokeswoman. It costs the city about $2.6 million annually, she said.

Positions that qualify for the EMBERS program include the mayor, members of the city council, the treasurer, registrars of voters, the mayor's chief of staff, the chief operating officer, the town and city clerk, deputy registrars of voters, nonunion department heads, nonunion deputy or assistant department heads, and nonunion office directors.

Under Segarra's proposal, the program would no longer be available to any employee hired on or after July 1, 2013. Those who have achieved 10 years of service or are on their way would still qualify for the benefit.

Employees who leave their job before becoming vested, but later come back to work for the city, would no longer qualify for the benefit.

Segarra also is proposing increasing nonunion employees' pension contributions by 1.5 percent. Five to 6 percent of employees' annual salary depending upon their position currently goes toward pensions, La Luz said. That would rise to 6.5 or 7.5 percent.

Segarra said he would also increase the amount nonunion employees are required to contribute toward health care. Currently, they contribute about 14 percent of the premium; Segarra said he would raise the contributions to 15 percent in January 2014 and 16 percent in July 2014, with an additional 1 percent increase each year afterward, until the contributions reach 20 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Although Segarra must get the council's approval for the end of the EMBERS program and the increase in employee pension contributions, he can make decisions on nonunion employee health care contributions without its consent. An ordinance passed in 2011 gives him the authority to do so, La Luz said.

The increases in employee pension and health-care contributions could save the city about $200,000 per year, she said.

Segarra's proposals will be introduced at the council meeting Monday. They are expected to be referred to committee for review.

Council President Shawn Wooden called the proposals "good steps," but said deeper structural changes to the city's pension and benefits system are needed. Wooden has sought to create a task force that would study the system and recommend improvements.

"Certainly, we've talked about the need to address the EMBERS package and I'm happy to see the mayor has introduced that. EMBERS is a package too rich for our city and we can't afford it," he said Friday. "But that doesn't change the need for looking at broader changes with regard to our health and pension benefits."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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