Health care costs eating up Poquonnock Bridge Fire District budget

Groton - The chairman of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District says health care costs for firefighters are too high, and the district will learn about its options when it meets with its broker tonight.

Board President Alan Ackley said health care costs for Poquonnock Bridge equal about 45 percent of payroll costs.

Last year, the fire district paid $980,000 for health care, including coverage for retirees, and had a payroll of $2.2 million, Fire Chief Todd Paige said. That translates into health care costs equal to 44.5 percent of payroll.

'What we're up against'

Ackley said he decided to hold the director's meeting at 6 p.m. today in the Groton Senior Center in open rather than executive session so people understand the costs of benefits.

"The public has to understand what we're up against," he said. "As well as the (other) directors understand what kind of options we can offer the firemen."

Poquonnock Bridge is in the midst of a legal battle and awaiting a Superior Court judge decision about whether it must honor a 10-year labor agreement with the union that includes annual wage increases of 3 percent.

The Town of Groton petitioned on Jan. 15 to intervene in the appeal, saying the contract affects the town pension system, so it has an interest in the case. The next court hearing is scheduled for March 11.

The district board and the union are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to discuss general issues, but they are not in negotiations.

Meanwhile, the fire district has been working under the contract with firefighters that expired last summer, while awaiting the judge's decision.

Both that contract and the 10-year contract offer firefighters three health plans: Two traditional plans that require co-pays for doctor visits and one health savings account that carries a higher deductible but lower overall cost.

Paige said most of the district's 29 firefighters are enrolled in the health savings account plan.

Poquonnock Bridge has been scraping by financially for months and closed one of its two fire stations in November. The district also began sending firefighters out to medical calls on a pickup truck to save on fuel.

Paige said that at the moment, Poquonnock Bridge is about $10,000 short of covering expenses, but costs and revenues vary monthly, so he believes it will break even at the end of the fiscal year.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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