Ulster County Legislators voted 18-4 to double their payment towards health care pensions last Tuesday, March 27.
Legislators raised their contributions from 10 to 20 percent of their income beginning in November of 2018. The Ulster County Sheriff position (currently the only position up for election) will increase in January of 2019. The Ulster County Legislature, county executive and district attorney will follow in January of 2020, ending with the county clerk and comptroller in January of 2021.
The proposal was solely sponsored by county legislator Joseph Maloney of Saugerties, District 2, who was elected to office three months ago. Maloney is passionate in his defense of the middle class and has proposed other numerous changes in his short political career.
“We have a healthcare crisis in our country,” Maloney said. “ If we ask the people who wake up at 3 a.m. to plow the streets, while legislators are sleeping, to pay more, we need to ask more of our rank and file officials.”
According to Maloney, approximately 1,400 people are employed by the county today. These employees are overseen by four unions: the Civil Service Employees Association, the Police Benevolent Association, the Ulster County Staff Association and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Employees’ Association. Employees within these unions will remain unaffected by this proposal.
According to the 2018 Health Insurance Rate Grid, as of January, Ulster County legislators paid the lowest percentages towards their health insurance. Other Union workers paid between 15 and 20 percent.
“Over the past 20 years the legislature asked unions to contribute more towards their health premiums,” Maloney said. “Legislation saw no such change.”
This proposal would hold legislators responsible for contributions equal to the other public service workers.
Ulster County Legislature Minority Leader Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz, District 20, described the proposal as a, “small act of solidarity,” with the other Ulster County employees.
“If you’re running for office for the healthcare benefits, you should reconsider,” Rodriguez said. “Public service is a trial of the soul, but you do it because you care about the community and want to see change.”
Additionally Ulster County Legislator James Delaune of New Paltz, District 17, supported the fairness and transparency that this bill would create.
“It’s only fair that we in the legislature increase the amount we pay ourselves if we are asking them [Ulster County employees] to do the same,” Delaune said.
However, some legislators, like 28-year veteran Richard Gerentine of Marlboro, District 11, is skeptical of the timing and fairness of the proposal.
“Ulster County Legislators are already grossly underpaid compared to Orange and Dutchess County,” Gerentine said. “It doesn’t incentivize new, good people to run for office.
Gerentine questioned the urgency of passing such a proposal and why it couldn’t wait until the two-year term of the legislators.
“Why not know? It should have been done years ago,” Maloney said. “As soon as I proposed this idea, some of my fellow legislators wanted to conduct studies on the effectiveness of such increases. No one asked for studies when they increased the unions’ contributions.”
The proposal awaits approval from Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.