Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Hardwick Director of Public Works Granted Health Care Aid

The Hardwick Township Committee passed an ordinance granting Director of Public Works (DPW) Thomas Campbell temporary health care benefit coverage to bridge the gap between retirement and the beginning of Medicare, at a meeting last Wednesday.

This health care coverage plan, passed on Campbell’s 35th anniversary working as a full-time employee for the town, was created to acknowledge his many years of service.

Ordinance 2022-02 states, “the township committee recognizes that long serving employees with marketable skills have sacrificed opportunities for more lucrative careers in the private sector by choosing instead to serve the residents of Hardwick.”

Contributing to Campbell’s health care premium will cost Hardwick $13,073 a year. For residents with $100,000 of assessed property value that equates an $8.60 increase in their taxes— $17.50 for those with double the property value. These increases will come into effect upon Campbell’s retirement, and as of now he is still a full-time employee.

Deputy Mayor John Lovell spoke extensively on the affordability of this new healthcare policy. As of last year, the township changed healthcare programs from a high-cost option to a low-cost option, while simultaneously removing elected officials and part time employees from healthcare coverage.

If Campbell were to retire tomorrow and the township immediately hired a new DPW who required a family healthcare plan, that would still save $4,744 in total budget costs for 2023.

“So, our healthcare costs are not skyrocketing as a result of this. They went quite the opposite direction,” stated Lovell.

Residents were given the chance to share their thoughts during the public hearing portion of the meeting, prior to the ordinance’s passing.

Meeting attendee, Jay Mena, speaking in Campbell’s favor, stated, “Actually think it’s silly, that we’re actually here talking about this. Tom’s worked for this township for 35 years.”

Mena continued, “And it’s embarrassing for me to see that man go through what he’s gone through with what he’s doing this township. If you take a look at any DPW employee in the state of New Jersey, outside this township, they get [benefits] to life. He’s not even asking for that.”

Resident, Mike Fee, said, “I think in the long term, the way that he cares for equipment, the way that he operates things, I think it’s saved the town money over the course of his turn of the year.”

Adding, “I think if you’re going to recruit for placements, for some of these positions, I think it would pay dividends to offer the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Some residents in attendance were skeptical of the proposed retirement benefits. Dan Riveria used the term “golden parachute” and asked for a cut-off point on the number of years of allowed coverage.

“There should be a certain time period that we have to serve out, you know? Put a three, four- or five-years stipulation, and then you go to Medicare.”

Several residents requested a referendum. Janice Weathes asked, “Why aren’t Hardwick township property owners making this decision? To me, that just seems like the right thing to do, it’s going to impact on our taxes.”

Committee member Kevin Duffy agreed on both those points. “What I’d be willing to support is a five-year bridge, save from 60 to 65. And I believe, if habits begin at 60…it gives us a chance to find somebody that can work with [Campbell] to transition the job over.”

Duffy supported a referendum, “but I don’t see that that’s going to get much traction.”

Lovell responded that a referendum was unnecessary for the amount of money being discussed.

In 2021, Hardwick Township’s budget was $1,324,013. Lovell explained, “The retirement benefits we’re discussing tonight is less than 1 percent of the budget…but we make these decisions all the time for larger amounts of money. And spend a lot more than that on many things.”

For future employees to receive these healthcare benefits they must have worked as a full-time employee for Hardwick Township, providing 30 years of credible pension service.
After the meeting a rather loud, heated discussion took place between Tom Campbell and B0b Ahlers until Mayor Jacksie intervened.

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