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Hempfield health care costs continue to rise

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By Richard Gazarik
Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Hempfield taxpayers will spend $580,000 next year to pay for health care for retired employees — including former supervisors and their wives who were awarded lifetime health care benefits after a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2009.

The figure is part of $1.5 million budgeted for health care in the proposed 2013 budget, which is to be adopted later this month. Despite the payouts, Hempfield has not needed to raise taxes next year. It will mark 25 years since the township last had a tax increase.

For 2013, supervisors allotted $2 million to pay for health insurance, life and disability insurance, and retirement, according to the proposed budget.

Health care for administrative employees will cost nearly $231,000 next year, up from more than $126,000 this year.

More than $615,000 will cover health care for employees of the public works department. Current costs are nearly $538,000.

Retirement contributions will eat up another $322,000 next year, although that is $7,100 less than this year.

The cost of health care for retired supervisors, who were employed by the township as roadmasters or as a township secretary, touched off a legal battle that led to a favorable ruling for the township in Commonwealth Court.

That ruling was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.

In 2011, the board of supervisors approved settlements with former supervisors who are receiving township-paid health care for the rest of their lives. They received life insurance coverage and were reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses incurred while the case was pending.

When the township negotiated a contract with union employees years ago, they awarded the workers lifetime benefits when they retired. Township auditors later awarded the same benefits to supervisors who were employed by the township.

The settlements ended a long-running legal dispute over whether the former supervisors were entitled to lifetime health care benefits. Township employees, who were union members, were eligible for lifetime benefits when they had five years of employment with Hempfield and reached age 55.

Supervisors sued to stop the payments to former supervisors, arguing they never were approved by the board.

The legal case that triggered the Hempfield dispute originated in White Deer Township, Union County, in 2004 when officials adopted an ordinance that awarded lifetime benefits to supervisors and their families just before they retired.

The township challenged the law in court and lost.

Hempfield had a practice that allowed elected supervisors to take paid jobs as roadmasters or as township secretary while they were in office.

That practice has since been abolished.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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