Town Employee Compensation Is Out of Whack

I am concerned that Tuftonboro’s town-employee compensation in general and benefits in particular are simply out of whack.

I am the Vice-Chair of the Budget Committee, but I am writing as a concerned citizen. The town should be run with respect for the taxpayer, balanced with a desire to fairly compensate employees. However, lately it seems taxpayers are being ignored.

The town pays an average of $25,675 in family health benefits to each full-time employee, almost equal to the current per capita income in Tuftonboro of $33,143. Something is seriously wrong.

Tuftonboro’s employee-benefit costs equal $526,675 in 2016. That represents 46.6% of total salaries. Most businesses use 30-35% of salary as a rule of thumb when providing benefits. I am not aware of a business in Caroll County with fewer than 25 employees that pays these kinds of benefits. Frankly, in my 43 years of business experience, I have not encountered any small business that paid benefits equal to 46.6% of salaries.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust recently found in their Employer Health Benefits Survey for 2015 that the average employee contribution for family coverage from 1999 to 2015 was 28%.

kaiser-2915-exhibit-6-1

The 2016 Kaiser Family Employer Health Benefits Survey found that the average employee contribution for family coverage in 2016 was 30%.

Average $5,227 employee contribution represents 30% of total cost.
Average $5,227 employee contribution represents 30% of total cost.

But Tuftonboro town employees pay nothing toward their own health insurance coverage—not even their co-pays. That is just incredible!

Tuftonboro spends $302,742 on the cost of health and dental insurance for roughly 20 full-time employees. That’s 57.5% of what we spend on benefits.

kaiser-family-2015-exhibit-6-4

Moreover, the Kaiser Family surveys found that total premiums for family coverage averaged $17,546 (Exhibit 6.4 above) in their 2015 report and $18,142 (Exhibit A above) in their 2016 report — yet Tuftonboro pays $23,291! That’s around 1/3 more. Why is that?

Here are some ways that we as a town can find cost savings:

  1. Establish cost sharing by employees using the Kaiser Family survey’s 1999–2015 average contribution of 28%. Such cost sharing has been commonplace in the business world for over 30 years! This would save the taxpayers $80,000 annually.
  2. Restructure or “shop” the town’s health plan to reduce the cost so that it equals the Kaiser Family survey’s average cost of $17,546. This would save the taxpayers roughly $6,000 per employee, or another $80,000 annually.
  3. Stop paying employee co-pays and deductibles (the Health Reimbursement Adjustment line item on the 2016 Tuftonboro employee compensation spreadsheet). This would save the taxpayers $9,000 annually.
  4. Drop the town’s fully paid dental plan. This would save the taxpayers $18,000 annually.

The annual savings that the taxpayers would receive if we adopted these four steps would be roughly $187,000.

I believe the selectmen, as the town management team, have an obligation and a fiduciary responsibility to prudently manage the town’s affairs in a cost-effective manner. As such, it is important to balance the interests of both the town’s employees and its taxpayers.

Selectmen Vote to Increase Public Employee Salaries

The Selectmen voted unanimously to peg the public employee pay schedule to the consumer price index (CPI) for northern New England put out by the federal bureau of labor statistics. The schedule of raises is currently set out in 2% steps. Under the selectmen’s scheme, the schedule will be adjusted each year. This year the CPI shows a 1.5% increase in inflation. That means that any public employee receiving a raise will get a 3.5% raise. 2% under the pay schedule and 1.5% as a cost of living adjustment raise (COLA).

In public comment I asked if public employees would receive a COLA even if they did not receive a merit-based 2% raise. At first, selectman Bill Marcussen said yes, that all town employees would receive an automatic COLA raise each year, so long as the CPI showed an increase. However, after I asked a few more questions, the three selectmen clarified that only employees who receive positive performance reviews will receive raises.

Hypothetically speaking, if every public employee in town receives a 3.5% raise this year, that will increase the budget line for salaries by roughly $38,500.

The per capita income in Tuftonboro is $33,000.