The Press Newspaper
Jerusalem Township trustees voted 2-1 at a meeting March 24 to drop health insurance coverage and training costs for elected officials and full-time employees to cut expenses.
Trustees Rodney Graffis and Joe Gray voted to end health care coverage and out-of-town training expenses. Trustee Joe Kiss was opposed.
Health insurance will end on May 1 for Gray, Kiss, Fiscal Officer Julie Van Nest, and two full-time employees. Graffis receives coverage through his union.
Graffis said he proposed the cuts because Van Nest told trustees “we don’t have the money,” in the general fund.
“So we had to do something to try to cut back on the budget,” said Graffis. “Last year, we had almost 10 percent less revenue coming in due to delinquencies and foreclosures. So we’re making cuts. Everybody else is making cuts. I’m sure that’s not a shock to everyone.”
The township will save $50,000 by dropping health care.
Gray said the cuts were needed to fund township projects, such as the nuisance abatement program, which tears down dilapidated housing. The township razed three houses last year at a cost of approximately $14,000. This year, there’s no money in the account, he said.
“There are projects that can’t be done because there’s a limited amount of money in the general fund,” said Gray. “The rest of the funds are fine. But our fiscal officer has been paying out of the general fund way too much.”
Currently, there’s approximately $417,000 in the general fund, which is less than previous years, said Gray.
“Health insurance is a big ticket item and it doesn’t serve the whole township,” said Gray.
Another option was to drop refuse collection, but the township just signed a contract with Waste Management, said Graffis.
“I don’t think I’m going to cut garbage. That affects the whole township,” said Graffis.
Garbage collection is the biggest expense in the budget at over $140,000 per year, said Gray.
That left health insurance on the cutting block, said Graffis.
“The Ohio Revised Code states that when you provide insurance and health care for full-time employees, it’s also there for elected officials. It’s all or nothing. So we went ahead and started at the top. We cut it clear across the board for everybody,” said Graffis.
Health care coverage could be reinstated if trustees come up with alternatives, said Graffis.
Elected officials and township employees will also have to cover their own expenses when they go out of town for training. Costs include meals, mileage, and hotel rooms. The township expects to save approximately $5,500 annually.
“If I decide to run again and get re-elected and go to Columbus, I will have to pay for it out of my own pocket. And that’s fine,” said Graffis. “I didn’t take this position to count on money and health care. I ran for this position for the township.”
At the trustee meeting on Tuesday, Gray offered to pay his $11,000 annual salary he gets as trustee back to the township if Graffis, Kiss and Van Nest did so. He also proposed that he, Kiss and Van Nest give up health insurance coverage so that the two full-time employees can keep theirs. Kiss and Van Nest were opposed.
“We thought about keeping the health care, and going ahead and eliminating our wages,” said Graffis. “I could go along with that. We were the only two who would agree to do our jobs and sign our checks back over to the township. Nobody else wanted to do it.”
Kiss said he and Van Nest are entitled to their pay checks.
“For what I deal with, I’m not going to give back the $700 per month I get just because they want me to,” said Kiss. “If Joe and Rodney want to give their pay checks back, they don’t need me to vote yes on it.”
Van Nest said she is opposed to repaying the township her salary as auditor because it’s her primary source of income.
Kiss said he was appalled that health care coverage and out of town expenses were dropped. Other services, he added, could have been cut instead of health insurance.
“One of my suggestions is to discontinue unlimited refuse pickup, which we have twice a year,” said Kiss. “We would save a total of $32,000. Or we could save $16,000 by scheduling it just once annually. I would much rather do that than screwing up people’s health care. It’s totally immoral and unethical to discontinue health care coverage. Some people have children who will lose their coverage as a result.”
Kiss, Van Nest, and Gray will have to pay for their own health insurance.
“On January 1, at the organizational meeting, that we were going to have insurance for the year,” said Kiss. “I made arrangements for my family to be on that insurance policy for the year. No matter what Gray says, I budgeted myself for this year to have insurance. It’s not ethically or morally right on March 24 to say we don’t want to take insurance anymore.”
Van Nest said the budget is going to be “tight,” but believed cuts other than health care should be considered first.
“I feel bad for everybody. Our workers and elected officials work hard,” she said.
Kiss said Graffis made the motion to cut health care “totally out of spite.”
“Graffis is mad that he got stuck with Mary Taylor’s finding for recovery,” said Kiss. “And he and Gray are going to stick it back to us because they’re upset he got caught. That’s what’s going on.”
Kiss is referring to State Auditor Mary Taylor’s findings last October against Graffis for collecting $20,000 in reimbursements from the township for out-of-pocket health care costs.
Jerusalem Township reimburses township trustees for out-of-pocket costs of health insurance premiums if they are denied or opt out of coverage from their primary employer. Auditors reviewed the documentation Graffis had submitted for reimbursement and found that he did not pay out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance. Rather, health insurance was part of his primary employer’s benefit package.
The auditor turned the matter over to the attorney general for recovery.
John Borell, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor who represents the township, and Lucas County Prosecutor Julie Bates, told The Press earlier this month that Graffis does not have to pay back the township due to a recent state law that prohibits enforcement because former Auditor Betty Montgomery had given approval for health care reimbursements to Graffis, and other township officials in Ohio. Taylor’s office stands by its ruling, saying the law does not cover Graffis.
Borell advised Van Nest to stop reimbursing Graffis for health insurance costs since Taylor would again issue a finding against him.
Gray and Graffis insist the drop in health care coverage has nothing to do with Taylor’s finding against Graffis. The cuts were made, they said, simply because there is not enough money in the general fund to cover needed projects this year.