Who is Minding the Store in Methuen?
By: Ken Willette – June, 2012
I have observed with great dissatisfaction political decisions being considered or enacted by our local leadership in Methuen. With each questionable decision, I have come to the same conclusions: when are real government reforms going to be implemented and how much will these recent actions to augment the size of local government ultimately cost the taxpayers?
Consider the following poor decisions. The incoming Administration reassigned two individuals out of the Mayor’s office, fully staffed the Mayor’s office, hired a Community Development Director and hired a Human Resources/Assistant City Solicitor, for a net gain of four full-time positions with no discernible attrition or appreciable cutback to the overall budget.
Because of this significant increase in the local bureaucracy, which I perceive to be the tip of the ice berg, our local leaders decided to pursue a race to the bottom, by increasing ambulance rates that will have a direct bearing on Methuen residents who are Medicare recipients; imposing an untimely meals tax during a sluggish recovery with the mindset that Methuen residents don’t eat at Methuen restaurants and vendors (What lunacy?); and rushing to approve a red light, for-profit camera racket disavowed across the nation. In terms of the red light legislation, which must be approved as a Home Rule Petition at the State House, how can local officials circumvent established state law and deem a red light moving violation as a non-surchargeable offense? They can’t and it will become a surchargeable offense on an individual’s insurance plan in addition to the fine structure when the Home Rule Petition is amended to reflect that point. Uniform state laws will not be amended simply because one community seeks to implement a system of red light cameras. Wouldn’t accidents be surcharged?
But watch the floodgate of dollars flow for more positions, more lucrative contracts, more overtime compensation,etc. Again, no managerial studies of the police and fire departments and the department of public works have been proposed, even though the last police department study occurred in the 1990s and I cannot recall any study being done of the fire department or the DPW. Now we are faced with the DPW overtime scandal.
Then a massive failure of political leadership occurred when we declined to join the GIC, which is the health insurance program for state workers that could have saved Methuen residents anywhere from $1.5 to $2million. Please note that much of the so-called surplus in the health insurance account derives from two main sources— imposing millions of dollars over the past few years in municipal charge backs from the Chapter 70 allocation (essentially taking funds away from our classrooms) and charging city and school workers exorbitant amounts for health insurance deductibles ($2,000 per family and $1,000 per single individual)
Now that alleged surplus will help lower deductibles, but they will still be much higher than the GIC deductibles($750 per family and $250 per individual). Local workers will still pay higher premiums (68/32 premium split), experience fewer medical choices with one health insurance plan, and face higher deductibles than their GIC counterparts who benefit from an 80/20 premium split. It is a very sad parlor game in Methuen when leaders deal with health insurance. You run a deficit and take millions from the Methuen Public Schools as a municipal charge back. Then you continue to charge Methuen workers and their families steep deductible amounts.Will the supposedly constructive health insurance changes create a permanent firewall and prevent municipal leaders from raiding Chapter 70 dollars every year to shore up likely health insurance deficits in future years? Very doubtful, which is my prognosis for any tax relief for middle class and working class residents of Methuen in July.