Hartford's interim police chief says he won't take the permanent chief's job without the promise of free healthcare for life. But he wouldn't be the only one to get the perk when he retires. And as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, Mayor Pedro Segarra says it's time to review the benefit.
It's called the EMBERS program, and it gives some city employees free lifetime healthcare for them and their families when they retire after five years on the job. Who gets it? Mayor Pedro Segarra will. So will the city's registrars of voters, deputy registrars of voters, the mayor's top advisors, non-union department heads across the city, and members of the city council and other elected officials. In a time of tight municipal budgets, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and Segarra's call for "shared sacrifice," the healthcare benefit is holdover from an earlier time.
Now, Segarra says it's time to give what's called the EMBERS program it a second look.
"There is time for us to do a major revision and look into the whole EMBERS program."
The city spends millions a year on health care for its employees and retirees. And Segarra's office says the mayor recently changed the pension formula for new hires and made it less generous. But when it comes to its retirees, the city is facing bills it can't pay. In fact, Segarra says he just had to sign an IOU to the treasurer's office for $11 million. That's money he needs to contribute to the city's pension fund -- but it's money he doesn't have.
"I think that looking forward, we should be looking for something that's more economical."
One person who won't be getting the benefit is Luis Cotto. He's a city councilman until this Friday, when he formally resigns his post. He's leaving the city for personal reasons, and he's got just four years and seven months on the council.
Cohen: So five more months?
Cotto: Yeah. (laughter) And?
Cotto says he knew about the benefit when he decided to leave his post, but the move makes sense for his family. But he also thinks this -- when it comes to healthcare for elected officials, appointed office holders, and top city managers, Cotto says it's a benefit reserved for people who may not really need it.
For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.