Issues surfaced during Antrim Township's primary election

PAT FRIDGEN

Two issues surfaced in the May primary election which may have affected the outcome of Antrim Township nominations for supervisor. Two six-year seats will be filled at the Nov. 8 general election. Contenders are John Alleman, Pat Heraty and write-in candidate Scott Diffenderfer. Incumbent Sam Miller was ousted when the primary tallies came in. The results were Alleman 682, Heraty 489, and Miller 429, a swing of 31 voters.

Heraty attacked Miller in a pre-election letter to residents, critical that Miller accepted a benefit offered and used by all of the current supervisors - access to a generous health insurance plan. Since the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania added the perk years ago, nearly every supervisor has been covered under the plan, which is the same as offered to fulltime employees.

In his letter, Heraty also denied that his job as district manager for Waste Management of Greencastle Hauling was a conflict of interest, which Miller had alleged in conversations with the public.

Antrim and WM have a Municipal Host Compensation Agreement since WM owns and deposits its trash at Mountain View Reclamation in Upton, partially in the township. This year Antrim budgeted $588,000 for revenue in host fees, and the agreement spells out how the money can be used.

Diffenderfer entered the race because he also has concerns about Heraty's ability to remain impartial on issues related to WM. Heraty's own boss, John Wardzinski, senior district manager of MVR, sent the Echo Pilot a letter-to-the-editor last May, stating Heraty would indeed have a conflict of interest on any issue related to WM or the landfill. He wrote that their legal department had instructed Heraty to recuse himself from any deliberation on the issues, and to refrain from voting on them.

Heraty is currently chairman of the Park Committee, which makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on improvements and maintenance for the township's parks. Much of the spending is drawn from the park fund financed by WM. Another representative from WM sits in as a non-voting advisory member.

Park issues are a regular topic at supervisor meetings. WM concerns have not typically been on the agenda, but issues are discussed spontaneously. Heraty told the Echo Pilot, if he wins a seat, he will actually leave the room during any discussions or votes concerning Waste Management.

Health insurance

Supervisors Miller, Fred Young III, Rick Baer, James Byers and Curtis Myers subscribe to the healthcare plan, and Antrim pays the premiums. They also may claim up to $1,500 a year for dental, eye, medical and employee wellness expenses. Membership in a wellness program, such as a fitness center, is covered at 50 percent. All five have submitted claims for themselves or family members this year for these out-of-pocket expenses.

While Heraty challenged Miller in May for utilizing the insurance benefit, he did not take on fellow candidate Alleman. Alleman told the Echo Pilot, if elected, he too would enroll in the program. He is currently covered under his Maryland employer. He was unaware of the $1,500 benefit. Diffenderfer as well said if elected, he would accept the insurance.

Heraty said he would not take the insurance because he had a good plan through Waste Management, and it was affordable. He also said he would not use money from the $1,500 allotment. He admitted he made health insurance an issue in the primary race because he did not like Miller's assertion about a possible job-related conflict of interest.

The newspaper contacted all of the parties for their views on health insurance. Myers did not respond.

Byers explained that under Governor Tom Ridge, who served from 1995 to 2001, the legislature enacted the law which added the perk for public service.

"Local governments were having a tough time getting people to run then. I've used it ever since."

Supervisors receive a compensation of $3,400 per year for their service on the board. Byers laughed. "You don't do it for the money."

Miller, Young and Baer, all elected since 2005, said they enrolled in the insurance plan because it was offered and helped with expenses. Previously Miller utilized insurance through his company's union, Young through self-insurance, and Baer from his wife Tracy's employer.

Changes considered?

Since most organizations with employees are having a tough time economically, the Echo Pilot asked if the board had ever considered taking the insurance benefit away from supervisors. Young and Baer said no. Miller countered that Young and Myers had wanted to look into charging employees for the premium, but he responded that the supervisors should first get off the plan so employees could get a raise that covered the cost that action would entail.

"No one said another word. Nothing ever happened," he recalled of the executive session discussion.

Diffenderfer remembered the topic was not addressed either, when he was a supervisor from 1989 to 2007, but should be now. The plan would have to be the same for the board and the staff.

"The employees are great people who work hard for a fair wage, but not a great wage. We felt the insurance package was a way to give employees and their families a benefit for being good workers."

However, in 2011, Diffenderfer said Antrim would be remiss not to consider a change in policy. "Anyone who doesn't discuss this at renewal time is making a mistake. Workman's compensation and insurance are a big cost factor for any organization, a juggling act."

Baer was open to a change in the employee plan, which would also apply to supervisors. Trimming the program was likely to occur at some point. "In my mind, we'll have to sometime. It's gonna have to be changed sooner or later. Who else gets such a good package?"

Young was less committed. While some discussion had taken place, "It's been spirited. Some want to do it and some don't."

Byers said the issue of employee premiums had been debated for years. "(Former board member) Robert Whitmore always brought it up at budget time. I felt employees in the open market get higher pay, so this makes up the difference. I'm not sure that's still the case. It's a very good benefit package for them."

Miller still favored Antrim covering the expense for employees, which resulted in a fair wage for them. He supported the state removing the perk for supervisors from the Second Class Township Code. Heraty couldn't comment until he reviewed the policy, but Alleman agreed that every citizen was starting to pay more for health insurance costs, so he was willing to look at cuts.