AUBURN — Some Androscoggin County commissioners might try cutting costs by slashing benefits to former elected county leaders, who thought they’d earned health care coverage for life.

Public meetings are being planned and legal analysis is under way, Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood said Thursday. His aim: saving taxpayers money.

“I am opposed to elected officials collecting benefits for eternity,” he said.

The sentiment has caused a rift within the three-member commission. Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte said he was still wading through legal advice and gathering information. However, Commissioner Elaine Makas said Thursday that she plans to fight for any benefits that
were promised to people when they went to work for the county.

“You can’t change this midstream,” she said. “That’s not fair. Our employees work really, really hard and deserve respect.”

The lifetime health benefit was ended in the mid-2000s. New nonunion hires and elected officials earn no such perk. However, several former commissioners, registers of probate and deeds and treasurers either collect the health benefits now or are scheduled to in the future, based on as little as five years of service for some.

John Cleveland, who served as the register of probate for 10 years, said Thursday that he ran for the post partly because of the benefit.

“People made life decisions based on the written policies,” said Cleveland, who left the county a year ago. Many did it for little money. “When I started there, I making $9,000 a year.”

At 60 years old, he doesn’t have enough time to earn a similar benefit in what’s left of his working life, he said.

On Wednesday, at least two dozen people, including Cleveland, attended a commission meeting to hear an update on the issue. LaBonte and Greenwood avoided discussion on the matter, citing a legal memorandum from lawyer Bryan Dench received only an hour before the afternoon meeting began.

Makas wanted to give people an update on the matter, she said.

On Thursday, Greenwood charged her with political grandstanding. Makas, whose term expires at the end of the year, denied it.

The commissioners are facing a lawsuit from several former employees over a similar benefit, extending the lifetime health care coverage to the surviving spouses of county retirees. That matter has gone to court.

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