N. Hampton workers blast LGC, town administrator's involvement
Misuse of insurance funds source of anger
North Hampton Fire Fighters IAFF Local 3211 President, Mike Tully, is surrounded by active and retired town employees on the steps of the town hall to protest distribution of tax payer money.Deb Cramemail@example.com
NORTH HAMPTON — Approximately 20 representatives of the town's police, fire and teacher unions gathered Monday to voice their dissatisfaction with — and anger at — the Local Government Center over what was found to be the misuse and redirection of health insurance funds.
They also took aim at Town Administrator Steve Fournier, a member of the LGC board.
Fournier rejected the accusation that he put the LGC — the company that acts as a pool for securing lower-cost health care benefits for the employees of cities and towns across the state — ahead of the town for which he works. He indicated he will ask the LGC to return to the town money used by the nonprofit to pay its workers' compensation costs.
"Once the secretary of state's report is finalized, North Hampton will be one of the first to ask for its money back," Fournier said.
The town administrator noted there are two pools of money being investigated by the secretary of state. The LGC is accused of using money given by towns to fund a health insurance pool for municipal and school workers to instead pay for its own workers' compensation costs. It is also alleged that town funds were wrongly used to pay for the LGC's purchase of land, construction of a new center and other expenses, such as lodging.
"I wasn't on the board (when the decision to fund workers' compensation costs using municipal contributions was allegedly made)," Fournier said. He indicated it was his understanding that, at that time, "the director and (LGC legal) counsel were advised that it was appropriate to use the money for that purpose."
As for the use of health care payments to fund other expenses, Fournier said he stands behind the accounting procedures used to allow those payments.
Fournier said he chose to become involved in the organization to allow it to continue to keep a surplus to help reduce the impact of future health care benefit rate hikes. The secretary of state's report indicates that money from that surplus was used to fund some of the LGC's questionable expenses.
"The LGC used to give the (surplus) money back as a rebate, but the towns didn't want that money back because, under the state budgeting law, it couldn't be used for health care that year," the town administrator said.
That explanation did not satisfy Tully.
"As with every city and town in our state, North Hampton is struggling in these tough economic times," Tully said. "We believe there is an obligation on the part of our town administrator to explore all options that would improve the finances of our town — and that includes exploring the amount of North Hampton taxpayer money that the Local Government Center has been overcharging for health insurance and then misusing for other purposes."
Teachers' union President Andrew Gushie agreed.
"Employees and employers around the state have been hamstrung by the cost of health care," he said. "There are very few people untouched."