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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Local government keeps kicking the can down the road

There was an information item back in September you may have missed regarding increases in insurance rates for healthcare insurance for governments that use the New Jersey State Plan.

Here are the details, from the New Jersey League of Municipalities website dated September 14, 2022:

“Today, during the Annual Rate Renewal meeting of the State Health Benefits Commission (SHBC), the trustees voted to approve a nearly 23% local government health insurance rate increase and a 21% increase in state employee health insurance rates. The three executive branch representatives voted in favor of the rate increase, while the two labor representatives split, one voting against and the other voting to abstain. This contentious meeting, which was rescheduled from July, occurred without full consideration of cost-sharing measures offered by members of the Plan Design Committee earlier in the day.  

“The Plan Design Committee also approved resolutions that increased the co-pay for urgent care visits by $30, and increased the co-pay for specialist visits by $15, excluding OB-GYN services. The SHBC accepted those recommendations and incorporated them into the final vote.

“While no two states are similar, it appears that no other state is seeing such a drastic, double-digit year-over-year increase in their state and local government health plans. While these costs are outside the municipal cap, revenue will still have to be identified to cover the increased costs that will be paid for by municipalities, local government employees, and property taxpayers,” the New Jersey League of Municipalities website said.

And yet we still spent thousands of dollars on a municipal television studio on the third floor of town hall.

Great thinking, mayor and town council.

Our municipal elected officials should be ashamed of that TV studio project—a luxury item which should have never been built—in light of the fact that the coming insurance increases and their impact on the local budget were not a secret. Our elected officials should have known full well the expenses that were coming for the municipality and the taxpayers. A town source confirmed the municipal employees are insured through the New Jersey State Plan. According to a school district source, while the employees of the district are not enrolled in the New Jersey State Plan, the district is anticipating healthcare insurance increases in the coming year.

For years, we have been told that local bonded debt is being retired, that our local government officials on both the municipal and school sides have been carefully watching the spending. The municipality and the school district received millions of dollars in COVID-19 aid from the federal government. Was it carefully put away in a rainy day fund?

Who knows? We’ll keep trying to find out where every dollar of that federal aid is in both budgets. We’ll keep trying to figure out what the revenue streams—other than taxes, water and sewer on the backs of local taxpayers—will be that will help cover new expenses like the increases in the healthcare insurance for local municipal government employees. According to a municipal source, the state legislature still has to vote on the increases, but again, the increases were set by the State Health Benefits Commission in September.

Maybe we can try creating that stormwater utility again. Or maybe we can have a bake sale to raise the needed funds.

Local government keeps kicking the can down the road.

This time they may have run out of road.

That is a major problem for local taxpayers, and the fact that it has barely been talked about during this year’s election cycle even though it is a known problem should disturb anyone who pays into the system through the payment of their taxes, water and sewer.

Instead of frank discussions about major impending bill increases, council members use the public meetings to talk about townhomes on West End Avenue—a project that has seen resolution after resolution regarding it passed by the council without the virtue of being put on the council agenda ahead of time.

What a disgrace.

Don’t worry about the impending municipal insurance cost burden—look at how the town builds roads and a playground! Aren’t you impressed? It certainly makes me feel confident in the oversight abilities of the council and engineering firm, particularly when you consider how they saw the contractor, Think Pavers, in action and did very little to right the roadwork ship for too long.

They could have done more, but they kept kicking the can down the road.

You can read this and make your own decisions about what should be done about the future of local government. If you want to say it’s all going well, that we’re better off than we were three years ago, feel free.

Problems don’t get solved when you ignore them.

They just become bigger problems.

No matter how you vote, people at the town are going to have to deal with healthcare increase and governance issues, and people at the school district will have to deal with their own challenges as well.

I certainly hope there is a plan in place at both local government entities beyond kicking that same old can down that same old road.

Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.


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