City still not ready to take over insurance trust

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

With the Montgomery County Health Insurance Trust nearing its end, Amsterdam officials are hoping they have what they need in place before the trust dissolves.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday evening, three council members met with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, city Controller Ronald Wierzbicki, and Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis to get a handle on where the trust process is and where the city should be at this point.

"Back in November, the final piece of the puzzle to get us out of the MCHIT (Montgomery County Health Insurance Trust) was put in place when the board voted to terminate the Matrix contract," said 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas, who has sat on the trust board. "Also discussed at that meeting was the desire of the board to seize operation of the trust by 2012."

Part of seizing operation is that both the county and the city must have accounting systems in place to pick up the internal administration of "paying the bills," Dybas said.

"All that being said, we have to be ready in house as Montgomery County has to be ready in house, to pick up cutting the checks to make sure bills get paid," he said.

With the end of the year nearing, Dybas asked, "Has all that been set up and are we ready to go?"

Wierzbicki said he hadn't had contact with trust representatives with respect to moving forward with this piece.

Thane chimed in to say they had been discussing this move to setting the fund up in house since September and early October.

"So right now we are not set to go," she reiterated.

"There are issues at stake here," Dybas responded. "If we are going to do it in-house, we need to establish an M Fund."

Those in attendance discussed the possibility of the county doing it and posed what it would cost.

But Dybas said he believed the city should have a "fail safe" and have the fund set up.

Staff in the city are not familiar with health insurance, Wierzbicki said.

"Perhaps the council should have hired a benefits administrator to oversee this operation," he said.

But Thane said if he felt strongly about that, the controller should have brought it up before now.

"How much money are we going to have to throw over here?" Thane asked, adding that perhaps Wierzbicki should check with current consultant Darryl Purinton to see what he suggests.

Purinton has "blown through" half of the funding they was set aside for him to come in and help the controller's office, the mayor said, and asked Wierzbicki what the latest updates were on his presence in the office.

Wierzbicki said he and Purinton went along to the department heads last week and the consultant will be meeting with the mayor at the end of the week to discuss.

Though the meeting was earmarked for a discussion on the health insurance trust, it did linger into a brief discussion at the end about the deputy controller position.

Speaking with Purinton briefly, Thane said he told her the $70,000 for a new deputy controller position was not out of line as a realistic salary.

"We need to look at how this department will be structured into the future and what the cost is wholly in the end," she said. "If we can't get this person in, than maybe we need to hire a firm."

Dybas chimed in to say he thought it would be a long process to get it straightened out.

And though he couldn't give an exact cost or time estimate for what that would take, Wierzbicki could say that there are issues that need to be remedied.

"I could tell you there are many, many problems that need to be addressed but I'm sure that's nothing that's not already known," he said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero brought up the salary and the fact that it would be more than the controller himself makes.

"We're talking a six-year term, so it's not a politically-tied appointment," Thane said. "It's a different ball ... I don't think the comparison stands."

Dybas how the position would be funded, and Leggiero said he believed it should be discussed with the full council.

The last financial piece discussed at the meeting was in regard to a contract with Hess Corporation for natural gas.

HFM BOCES, acting as a pricing consortium, went out for bid for natural gas for certain city properties, Thane said.

"This is the winning bid, our current supplier," she said.

Dybas explained that he wanted more information, and Wierzbicki said he would get that, but the contract needs to be signed by Dec. 17.

As a result, a special meeting of the council was called for Friday at noon to decide on the contract.