County should trim benefits of retired officials

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It is becoming painfully clear to American workers that the future will not resemble the past, particularly when it comes to retirement benefits.

Skyrocketing medical and drug costs have forced employers to cut insurance programs. Lifelong, fixed-benefit retirement programs, meanwhile, have disappeared for the vast majority of private-sector employees.

What’s more, the financial crisis and resulting recession have forced millions of Americans to reduce their expectations and postpone their retirements — and that’s for the ones who still have jobs.

As a matter of fairness and simple economics, taxpayers should no longer be asked to shoulder the burden of old-fashioned public employee retirement programs in this completely new economic environment.

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As the private economy shrinks and benefits disappear, there must be a corresponding tightening of government retirement benefits for past, current and future public employees.

A good place to start would be reducing or eliminating the sweetheart retirement deal Androscoggin County commissioners created for themselves, and then improved upon, over the past decade.

This issue arose last week when commissioners discussed ending lifetime medical benefits being paid to former commissioners and other county officials.

The cost of that benefit, $80,000 this year, is too high, said Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood.

In 2004, county commissioners voted to end the medical insurance benefit from that point forward.

But, prior to that point, the officials could earn fully paid medical retirement benefits for as little as five years of continuous service with the county.

Try getting a deal like that for part-time work in the private sector and you would be laughed out the door.

“It is my position that the county should not be funding health insurance for past elected officials who are no longer serving,” Greenwood said.

Commissioner Elaine Makas said she favored maintaining the benefit, while Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte said he was undecided.

Last summer, commissioners voted to end health insurance for surviving spouses of retired employees.

That was a slightly different matter, however. A fresh reading of county policies determined that those benefits should not have been paid in the first place, so they were discontinued.

That reading is now being challenged in court.

We can more easily accept the idea of retirement medical benefits being paid to county officials with more than 30 years of service. That’s generous by today’s standards, but not unheard of.

But in this day and age, taxpayers should not be picking up the tab for county employees or officials with fewer years of service.

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