Government

Health Benefit Costs Exceed Salary for Some Hunterdon Freeholders

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Hunterdon County Freeholders Credits: Bill Brokaw
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FLEMINGTON, NJ – When some members of the public unsuccessfully sought to have the county Freeholders pass a resolution opposing the repeal of Obamacare last week, they were also unsuccessful in learning details of the health insurance the county provides to the Freeholders themselves.

“It’s part of the compensation,” answered Freeholder Director John Lanza, responding to questions posed by Raritan Township resident Barbara Sachau and Joey Novick, a former Flemington Councilman. “Some of us receive it, some of us don’t,”

When pressed for detail, Freeholders Lanza and Deputy Director John King declined and answered, “This is a comment section.”

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In an email to TAPinto, Lanza said that according to Freeholder board Clerk Denise Doolan, health insurance has been offered as part of the Freeholder compensation package for more than 30 years.

“Having taken into consideration the rising cost of health insurance, the Board has refused pay raises for the past 20 years,” Lanza wrote. The Freeholders’ $16,000 annual salary has been frozen since 1997, and the Freeholder Director’s salary has also been frozen at $17,000.

Hunterdon Freeholders are the third lowest-paid in the entire state, Lanza said, and each of the three current Freeholders receiving the health insurance benefit contribute towards the insurance costs.  

“The County follows all applicable State and Federal laws with respect to health insurance,” Lanza said. 

Those receiving the benefit include retired Freeholder George Melick.

Melick is believed to be the state’s longest-serving freeholder ever, starting with the board in 1978 and serving continuously until the end of 2013. He began his political career in 1963 as a Tewksbury Township Committeeman and also served five years as mayor there.

For his 50 years of public service which also included unloading sewer pipes in Oldwick, “I get a small pension,” Melick said, and the health insurance benefit. Melick said that because of the pension, he served two years on the Freeholder board without accepting a salary.

State records show his monthly pension is $1,274. County records show Hunterdon taxpayers pay $1,129 a month for his healthcare insurance.

County Finance Director Janet Previte said Melick is the only retired Hunterdon Freeholder currently receiving benefits. Former Freeholder George Muller is eligible for coverage, and his re-enrollment could be pending, she said.

The current Hunterdon Freeholders now receiving health insurance are King, Matthew Holt and Suzanne Lagay. Previte said the taxpayers’ monthly cost for their coverage is $2,305, $1,907 and $944, respectively.

Freeholder Rob Walton works for JCP&L and doesn’t use the county insurance, although he did in 2014 during a brief period of unemployment.

Yet Walton bemoans the benefit. “What do you get for public service?” Walton asks. “Personalized license plates,” he answers. “Reserved parking spaces on county property. You get introduced at events, and (you enjoy) all the trappings.”

And insurance.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I’d take it away,” he said. “All these things.”

Walton said he’d prefer that public service be more like working for a non-profit where you probably “don’t get paid, and in fact you’re expected to contribute to the cause.”

Lagay, King and Holt did not respond to a request for comment.

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