Elmira reopens union talks, seeks to cut health costs

The City of Elmira is actively working with unions that represent 173 of its 226 full- and part-time employees in hopes of reducing ballooning health insurance costs and to avoid imminent layoffs, City Manager Kimberlee Balok Middaugh announced Monday.

Elmira is taking the unusual step of reopening contract discussions with police, fire and civil service employee unions because the city faces a $3.2 million shortfall for the 2016 budget year on top 2015 health insurance claims that are trending $900,000 over budget, Middaugh said.

“In order to avoid a double-digit tax increase or immediate staff layoffs, the city must receive some concessions from its unions,” Middaugh said in a news release issued at 4:32 p.m. Monday.

“We have offered a number of fair and reasonable incentives; however, we have been unable to reach a settlement with all of the unions at this time. Those efforts are continuing,” she said. “Hopefully we would know more by the end of this week.”

Chemung County has agreed to allow city employees to move under its health insurance plan, a move that would save the city more than $1 million in the first full year. The change would increase city employees’ out-of-pocket expenses. However, the city would cover those costs with a health reimbursement account, according to the release.

In addition the city offered to lower the employees’ medical insurance contribution to help incentivize the change, the release says.

“Our financial condition is serious, and we’re looking to work fairly and equally with all our union and non-union staff,” Middaugh said. “Without union concessions to offset these escalating costs, layoffs are the only mechanism to provide the necessary savings.”

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http://www.stargazette.com/story/news/local/2015/07/13/elmira-reopens-contract-talks-layoffs/30102011/