New Milford mayor: We want Children’s Center open and successful
(Editor’s note: This is a letter from New Milford Mayor David Gronbach to Merima Trako of New Milford, who wrote a letter about issues facing the Children’s Center.)
Dear Ms. Trako,
Thank you for your letter about the daycares in town and the issues involving the Children’s Center.
Like you, my children also attended Tia’s Daycare and I spoke to the owner about the financial issues that required her to close.
I am sure that if the subsidies we provide to the Children’s Center were offered to a daycare like Tia’s, which serves an important and vital population of our town, it would not have closed.
I agree that the sliding scale the Children’s Center offers to low income families can and will be preserved. However, we need to acknowledge approximately 50 percent of the families that use the Children’s Center are not low-income and are paying full price, from $225 to $275 per week.
The entire program is subsidized by the state with approximately $325,000 per year and by the town with $79,500. Total income last year was over $1 million.
We should be proud that the town has helped it become a healthy asset to the community, but as set forth below, our proposal will not put it out of business.
The owner has been allowing the Children’s Center to offer its employees the town’s health insurance, and the town has been paying 30 percent of the premiums. This is where the red flags arise.
When it was brought to my attention from personnel, we could not find any authority for the arrangement. When finance informed me the town paid 30 percent of the premiums, or approximately $68,000 per year. Again I could find no authority; no Town Council resolution, no memo that would justify me, as a new mayor, to continue.
There has to be some authority to act, especially when taxpayer money is involved. I am never satisfied with, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Bad government cannot be “grandfathered in.”
The Children’s Center identified a Town Council resolution from May 14, 1990, as authority, but that raised more questions than answers. At the time, Town Attorney Sienkiewicz was asked for an opinion on the legality of extending town health insurance to non-employees and he said “more research is needed.”
The council voted anyway and passed an extension of the single plus one plans, not family plans.
Also, the center was to pay 100 percent of the premium costs. Not only have we been extending family plans to the Center, but the town has been paying 30 percent of the premium. I cannot continue something if I have no idea how or why we are doing it.
When I brought this arrangement to our attorney’s attention, they confirmed that our contract with CIGNA limits town health insurance to town “employee.”
“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is not authority for me to continue a policy that had significant financial and legal implications.
But our solution has never been to simply cut the Children’s Center loose. They are not town employees so they cannot be on our health insurance plan, but we can help them get on a private plan that costs the same amount the center is paying the town.
Last year the center paid $15,211 per month to the town for health insurance. The Gold Plan offered by Access Health would cost $15,237, a $26 increase. The Silver Plan costs $13,874.28 per month, a $1,337 per month decrease.
Nothing about what the town is proposing would jeopardize the Children’s Center ability to remain open. There will be zero financial impact on the center for switching to private insurance.
They will still receive their state and local funding and income from full price tuition. While the center pays $13,461 per month this year, since the town’s $68,000 share of the premium has already been budgeted, that money can be used to supplement any additional costs the center incurs as a result of the changeover.
As far as expanding services, the town is already the largest daycare provider with its Latchkey program.
We will be discussing the effects of these closures and whether the town can absorb additional children because of them.
Thank you for your comments. I welcome anybody to contact me with any questions about these decisions.