South Portland council keeps health care program; passes street lighting changes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council voted 4-2 to maintain its health care benefits Monday night, and will continue to receive a $3,000 stipend. The issue will not be a referendum question in November, and the City Charter will remain the same.

The heath care discussion surfaced about a month ago, when councilors decided the voters should have a say whether councilors should be able to receive the same health care plans available to city employees.

At a July 27 workshop on the issue, City Attorney Sally Daggett presented eight referendum questions to put to the voters in November ranging from benefit elimination, to increasing the annual stipend, to limiting plans to single coverage.

Councilors trimmed the referendum questions to two options by Monday night: to allow themselves a $3,000 stipend and to participate in any City group medical insurance program on the same basis as full-time employees; or to allow the $3,000 stipend and participate in group medical insurance with single coverage only.

Councilor Jim Soule proposed an additional amendment to the motion, adding language that would allow councilors who did not take the health benefits to receive monetary compensation equal to the cost of single coverage. The language would have allowed for more equity among the council, he said. Both his amendment and a second amendment proposed by Boudreau were defeated 3-3, with Councilor Maxine Beecher, Soule and Boudreau in support.

Soule and Boudreau voted in favor of the motion to
revoke health benefits for councilors and to set a date for a public
hearing to amend the City Charter.

But opposed to the amendment and to the motion to revoke health care privileges that cost taxpayers nearly $70,000, were Mayor Tom Blake and councilors Tom Coward and James Hughes.

Coward said he was against eliminating the benefits program for councilors because to do so would be “detrimental to the city.” He said the current insurance provisions have served the city well, and that the benefits draw the best candidates for the job.

“We need to attract the best of the best,” he said.

Blake said with an $80 million budget, the city demands qualified people in charge.

“I fear if we take away the compensation, the community will pay a larger price than $70,000,” he said. “Long after I am gone, I want the best people here.”

While Boudreau said she feels she deserves the insurance benefit because she works hard, she also wants public support and input on the issue.

“There hasn’t been a certain level of transparency,” she said. “There should have been more public input in 1977.”

Because of the 4-2 vote against the measure, the heath care issue will not go to referendum in November, and will not be discussed further at a workshop on Monday, Aug. 24.

But members of the public spoke against the councilor benefit program Monday night.

Albert DiMillo said councilors should be on a volunteer basis, and not spend more than a few hours a week performing city duties. He said he did not agree that some councilors received $3,000 and some received $15,000 through health compensation. There are many boards and committees that do not get compensated for their time, he said, and noted with a school budget of two-thirds the total budget, school board members only receive $1,000.

“You should get no more than $6,000, but you deserve nothing,” he said. “Stop stealing from the city.”

Resident Stanley Cox said the councilors should have no authority to set their own pay.

“You work for the residents of the city,” Cox said. “And as such, they are your boss. This should be decided by the people.”

Councilor Patti Smith was not present at Monday’s meeting, and does not participate in the city health plan.

Lighting changes

In other business, councilors voted to increase lighting by the Maine Mall and reduce lighting in residential areas.

They voted 4-2 to add additional lighting to Maine Mall Road between Philbrook Avenue and Gorham Road, and 5-1 to remove lights along seven city streets.

Councilor Soule voted against both proposals.

“There is an inconsistency here,” he said. “To spend $271,800 to light busy streets, and discontinue neighborhood streets is a problem. … We are spending money like drunken sailors.”

In a review of streetlights along Maine Mall and Gorham roads, missing poles due to accidents and non-operational lights due to old wiring or collapsed underground conduits were found. Councilors amended the motion to replace 35 light fixtures, down from 39 fixtures at a savings of $5,600.

Boudreau voted against the amendment to reduce the lights by four and the motion due to safety concerns.

“I don’t think diminishing the proposal by four lights will give us enough savings to compensate for safety,” she said. “Public safety is too important for the risk.”

Councilors also voted to remove 107 lights along Broadway, Millcreek, Main, Cottage, Sawyer, Highlands and Westbrook streets.

Soule voted against the motion because there is no appeal process in place after the lights are removed.

Library union contract

After three years of negotiations, the council approved the library’s first union labor contract Monday night. While the council went into an executive session halfway through their meeting to have a private discussion of public employee labor negotiations, they approved the contract 6-0.

Coward said he was in support of unions and was in favor of the contract.

“This is a good idea for management and for employees,” he said.

Mayor Blake said it was a long process with a successful outcome.

“This is an excellent contract for the city and the library,” he said.

The City Council will meet for a workshop Monday, Aug. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or