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County won't pay for retiree's health insurance

August 13, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

John Weller, who recently retired after 43 years as a Washington County government employee, said Monday he thought the County Commissioners would have been a little more appreciative of his years of service.

Weller said the commissioners denied his request to pay health insurance expenses for him and his wife until he becomes eligible for Medicare in six years.

He said the total cost to the county would have been about $19,000, or about $3,200 a year.

Weller, 61, retired on Aug. 9. He began working for the county in 1959 in the planning and zoning department, before transferring to the engineering department.

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Now, the Hagerstown resident and his wife, Phyllis, say they wonder why the commissioners would give retirement compensation to former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard, who worked for the county for five years, but not help someone who had decades of service.

Howard had been on paid administrative leave since late March and retired on May 8. The county announced his retirement on June 11. His annual salary at the time of his retirement was $82,067.

The County Commissioners and other officials have repeatedly refused to say how much Howard received as part of his retirement.

The commissioners have said that Howard's payment cannot be disclosed because the county signed a confidentiality agreement with him that prevents them from revealing that information.

"It stinks," Weller said. "It depends on who you are in the way you get treated. It depends on how high you are on the ladder."

Commissioner John Schnebly said Monday the county "generally" doesn't pay for retirees' health insurance.

When asked in what cases the county does pay, Schnebly responded, "If you're talking about John Howard, there were certain termination negotiations that went on there.

"If John Howard wants to publish that information, I would like him to," Schnebly said. "I'm not at liberty at this time to really discuss that any further."

Schnebly said there would be an appropriate setting and an appropriate time to reveal the information, but that time isn't now. He said the county was bound by legal and contractual obligations.

Commissioner Bert Iseminger said Weller was a dedicated employee, but that the county doesn't pay for health insurance for any retired employees.

"We're not making any special rules for anybody," Iseminger said. "I think it's important that we treat employees fairly."

Weller said it costs him about $270 a month for health benefits for himself and his wife.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz and Commissioner William J. Wivell could not be reached for comment Monday.

Weller said he thought the commissioners could pay for the insurance through the salary savings resulting from his retirement.

"If they hired (a replacement) at the entry-level position, they would save $115,000 over the six-year period," he said. He based the projected savings on the starting salary for the position and what he earned until his retirement.

He said he recently met in closed session with the commissioners to discuss the matter, but that only Swartz supported him. He said the other commissioners didn't respond to the request.

"The rest of them just sat there with closed mouths," Weller said.

He said he found out the next day that he had been turned down but was not given a reason why.

"I wasn't asking them to do anything illegal," Weller said. "They've done it in the past."

According to 1995 and 1996 memos from County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop, the county had offered health insurance to employees who reached either early or normal retirement age during fiscal years 1996 and 1997. In those cases, the retiree received free managed care until the person reached the age of 65 or became eligible for Medicare.

Shoop could not be reached for comment Monday.

Iseminger said he couldn't comment on the past practice because he wasn't a commissioner then. He said there is no similar policy currently in place.

Weller said he would not vote to re-elect the current commissioners.

"I can't see that," Weller said. "I guess the bottom line is if the county gave John Howard any kind of concessions, then why could they not do the same for me?"

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