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Morristown Council passes $1.36 million budget

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MORRISTOWN — The Town Council unanimously adopted a $1.36 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year at Tuesday’s meeting.

The spending plan includes a tax rate of $3.17 per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase over the current year’s $3.09 per $1,000 rate – the first hike in three years. The tax levy is $675,959, up from $650,750 in 2013.

The budget does not rely on any spending from the fund balance as the town focuses on increasing its reserves.

During a public hearing in advance of the vote, Ronald E. Tulley, a retired town highway employee, said he was disappointed by the council’s decision to switch from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Humana for retiree health insurance coverage.

The switch will save the town roughly $10,000 per year, Town Supervisor Frank L. Putman said.

The 2014 budget will see the town covering $185 per month in health insurance premiums for retired employees, totaling 75 percent of the total, monthly cost for Humana insurance.

That represents a decrease from the $460 per month the town currently pays for Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance.

Mr. Putman said that the town isn’t forcing retirees to switch to Humana, but that it will only put $185 per month toward their health insurance regardless of which insurance plan they decide to purchase.

“If you want something different, you have to make up the difference,” Mr. Putman said.

Mr. Tulley, who was employed by the town for 30 years, said he currently pays roughly $275 per month for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Beginning on Jan. 1 his monthly, out-of-pocket bill will increase to approximately $550 if he opts to stay with his current plan.

Although Mr. Tulley said the monthly fee may be lower for Humana, his research indicates that his copayments for medical services would skyrocket.

Currently Mr. Tulley pays $1,300 per year in copayments, and he said the switch to Humana would see his yearly bill jump to $5,700.

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “I’m not going to pay $5,700.”

Mr. Tulley said he is going to bite the bullet and pay the increased rate to continue with Blue Cross Blue Shield. He said he dislikes Humana’s prescription policy.

Mr. Putman said, “We’re not trying to say you have to take Humana, but we’re saying this is what we’re willing to pay.”

During the public hearing, the Town Council also came under fire for cutting the Morristown Public Library’s budget from $8,000 to $6,000.

Michelle Whalen pointed to raises that council members gave themselves in 2011, from $1,400 to $4,200 per member. Mr. Putman saw his salary increase from $9,500 to $12,300 in 2011.

“You couldn’t come up with $2,000 for the library?” Mrs. Whalen said. “I think it’s pathetic you couldn’t find $2,000 for the library, but you found $2,000 for yourself.”

Mr. Putman pointed out that he and the Town Council did away with their health insurance policies through the town in 2011 in order to save the town money.

But the bottom line, Mr. Putman said, is that “we cannot continue to go in using fund balance to hold the tax rate at bay.”

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