Rutland Vote May Be Difficult To Enact

03/03/10 5:50PM By Nina Keck
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VPR/Nina Keck

(Host) Rutland residents upset with the rising cost of government say one way to save money would be to rein in the benefits paid to city workers.

So they helped push through a charter change that would require city staff to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance coverage.

As VPR's Nina Keck reports, Rutland officials say that might be difficult to do.

(Keck)  Rutland resident Gail Moore is fed up with rising taxes.

(Moore) "I think taxes are way high now and somewhere, someplace they have to look and say okay - we have to do a little cutting because everyone else has budgets they have to follow."

(Keck) As a way to trim those taxes, voters overwhelmingly approved a charter change to require anyone enrolled in the city's health care plan - from snow plow drivers to public school teachers - pay 20 percent of their health insurance.

Rutland City School Superintendent Mary Moran says she understands the voter anger.  But she says because this was a charter change, it needs to be approved by the legislature.  Typically she says that's not a big deal - but this could be.

(Moran) "This is a particularly complicated situation because it impinges upon collective bargaining law and a collective bargaining agreement. And it would have impact beyond simply Rutland City because, theoretically, if this were to pass here, it could pass in other cities and towns in the state, which would have a particularly curious - I guess is a good word - upsetting the balance of collective bargaining."

(Keck) Rutland City Treasurer Wendy Wilton says the mayor has been negotiating with city employees to increase their share of the cost of health insurance.

Right now, non-union employees and members of the fire department pay an average of 6 to 7 percent of their health care costs. Wilton says she's not sure what the legislature will do, but says the city needs to look more closely at its health care plan and work to find a better deal.

(Wilton) "I have gotten some information recently from some other clerks and treasurers from towns around the state that indicate that the annual price of their family plan is somewhere in the $17,000 to $18,000 range and ours is 24."

(Keck) Steven Jeffrey of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says he's not sure any other towns would take the same approach. And, he says, if people in Rutland feel this strongly, he thinks there's a better way for them to take action.

(Jeffrey) "If the power is vested in the city council to approve a city contract, and people are upset about that, then there's another solution.  Become the city council and make sure the next contract doesn't have that stuff in there."

(Keck) For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Rutland.

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