OXFORD — A unanimous vote by the Board of Selectmen on Thursday, Aug. 1, to stay with the current health insurance plan offered to non-union town employees was greeted with a round of applause from employees in attendance.

Town Manager Butch Asselin presented a cost-comparison study of several options to selectmen. Several employees voiced their concern regarding potential changes to the benefit.

In 2017, the town switched from the top-rated Maine Municipal Employees Health Trust Traditional Point of Service Plan, or POS A, to the current PPO 500, a preferred provider plan, Asselin said. At the time, the town opted to also offer a Health Reimbursement Account benefit to employees. The PPO 500 is the fourth-best plan offered by the health trust, he added.

“During the budget cycle this year, the budget committee raised concerns about the cost of health insurance,” he said.

The cost to the town is $962 per month for each of the nine employees enrolled in the individual PPO 500.  Seven employees are enrolled in the family plan at a cost to the town of $2,158, he said.

“The health trust required us to fund the HRA at $66,000,” he said. “On average, we expended 58% of that. There is $71,297 in the HRA, presently. Based on the number of current users we have, we only really need $54,000. If the trend continues, we will only be asking to raise $11,222 for the HRA next year.”

The savings to the town by switching to the PPO 1500 plan would be approximately $26,000, he said. The PPO 1500 would cost employees more in higher deductibles and coinsurance.

Town Clerk Beth Olsen said if selectmen decided to go with the PPO 1500 plan, it would equal a $1.50 per hour pay cut in increased premiums.

“When I was hired here, I came because of the retirement benefit and the health benefit,” she added. “I took a pay cut to come here because of the benefits offered.”

Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman said of the plans proposed, the lowest employee out-of-pocket increase would be $134 a month.

“The highest is $407,” she added. “That is almost my entire weekly take-home.”

“I had a meeting with employees and they do feel that a change in the program so soon will impact morale and the ability of the town to attract and retain employees,” Asselin said.

Selectwoman Samantha Hewey said the health benefit was part of a package deal.

“As we discussed at the budget committee meetings, you are not offering more per hour but you are offering a better package,” she said. “That gets us more mature and long-term employees.”

She suggested offering a health plan employees may not be able to afford to access could result in catastrophic health events. “If that happens, we will be paying more in short-term disability, more for employees being out and more for life insurance. I just don’t want to see those things happen.”

In other matters, the board conditionally approved a mass gathering permit for a festival expected to take place at the Oxford Fairgrounds Sept. 19-22.

Nel Morin of Festivals of Maine said he was planning the event which would include a midway, barrel racing, a beer tent and performances by local bands. He said he was hopeful to have Maine artists and crafters on hand. A potential demolition derby was also being planned, he said.

“Instead of fireworks, we will have one of the first-ever electric light shows in Maine,” said Morin.

Morin said this was the first festival he has promoted but he had been in the fair industry for a long time. It would take about three weeks to finalize the schedule for the event, he added.

Portions of the proceeds will benefit a scholarship for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, he added.

Police Chief Michael Ward said he was mainly concerned with security.

“We can do security on the inside of the grounds and then contact you for whatever else is necessary,” said Morin.

He agreed to Ward’s recommendation of having at least one officer on site. Morin said he also planned on having paramedics on-site throughout the festival.

“I am fine with signing the permit as long as he works with us like he has been,” said Ward. “I need to know more about the inside security.”

The board approved the permit application provided Ward, Fire Chief Paul Hewey and Corey-Whitman signed the permit after receiving any information they needed.