Ross may cut officials' medical benefits

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Three projects have elevated the proposed 2014 Ross budget into the red, and outgoing Commissioner Chris Eyster believes that this would be the time to end a perk few other township commissioners receive -- paid health insurance.

Mr. Eyster proposed Monday that the solicitor draft an ordinance ending the benefits for future commissioners. It is against state law to change benefits for current officials.

"The feeling that I'm getting from the taxpayers is they want an end to commissioners' health insurance," Mr. Eyster said. "Given the astronomical amount associated with this cost, I think we should consider it in light of the budgetary constraints that we have and the sentiment of the taxpayers."

The 2013 budget included $135,250 for health insurance for the commissioners, and another $42,750 for their salaries.

The 2014 budget includes $123,336 for the health insurance, and $39,375 for salaries. Next year's budget also projects a deficit of approximately $800,000 because of construction of a new public works building; resolving heating, ventilation and air conditioning problems in the municipal building; and completing the comprehensive plan.

A motion was passed by a 5-4 vote to direct the solicitor to draft an ordinance that would phase out health insurance for commissioners.

Voting in favor were Mr. Eyster, Peter Ferraro, Gerald O'Brien, Dan DeMarco and John Sponcer. Opposing it were Lana Mazur, Grace Stanko, David Mikec and Grant Montgomery.

Mr. Eyster and Mr. Ferraro will leave the board at the end of the year, and Mr. O'Brien resigned Monday. Mr. Sponcer does not accept the health insurance.

Mr. Ferraro, who also never accepted the health insurance, said the cost disparity concerns him. Mr. DeMarco, for example, has a single policy that costs $516 per month, while Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Mikec cover their families, each at a cost of $1,621 per month.

"You need to have something is consistent. When one individual is getting $1,100 more than another, I think that disparity throws everything out of line," Mr. Ferraro said.

Mr. Eyster noted that commissioners had a "gentleman's agreement" that they would pitch in 10 percent of the cost this year, but not all commissioners complied.

Mr. Ferraro said the two incoming commissioners campaigned that they would not accept the health insurance.

"I think that's commendable. I think that's the gist of what you do when you serve your community," he said. "I'd like to see that spirit instilled in everybody."

In other business, commissioners scheduled a meeting Monday to work exclusively on the 2014 budget.

They also approved a site plan for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth to build a multifamily townhouse to serve as the sisters' new home.

The sisters plan to subdivide their property and sell most of it, including the current motherhouse, to Presbyterian SeniorCare, which will build 42 apartments for senior citizens.

Dennis Schack, township building inspector, said the sisters will petition the board later to change the zoning of the property to multifamily residential, then will be back again for the subdivision.

"They're going to be back in front of the commissioners several times," he said. "But they need a place to live first."

Also, three residents of The Mews Town North protested township plans to apply for a grant to turn the fitness trail in Evergreen Park into a disc golf course.

"This is home for many generations of wildlife creatures," said Kathleen Fenk. "It is a jewel of natural beauty, left as is."

Disc golf is a game played with flying discs such as Frisbees. The proposal would remove dead trees from the forest floor.

But those dead trees serve an important purpose, said Jean Hensel. "The dead and dying trees are where the owls and the woodpeckers live." Ms. Hensel said she contacted the Game Commission and the Audubon Society about the impact of removing the trees and putting in a disc golf course.

"I'm very much opposed to the disc golf. I don't know why we need to spend taxpayers' dollars to remove forested areas when we don't have that much left," she said.

Robert Fenk told of recently rounding the corner of his building and coming face-to-face with a large stag.

"It occurred to me as I was watching that incredible animal that all of the creatures in that forest had as much right to live in there as I do. Seeing that stag just reminded me of my place in the universe," he said.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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