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Marlborough Mayor Advocates a Cut in Disability Benefits for Retired Police, Firefighters

The surprise move has angered many police and firefighters. At least a dozen police commanders attended the Marlborough City Council meeting Monday.

Marlborough Mayor Advocates a Cut in Disability Benefits for Retired Police, Firefighters
Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant has angered many of the city's public safety employees by proposing a cut in disability benefits for retired police and firefighters.

The move to end city coverage of medical, hospital, surgical and related expenses for firefighters and police who have retired under accidental disability was revealed in a letter to the City Council Jan. 9, days after Vigeant began his second term.

The city has covered these expenses since 1973, according to Vigeant's letter, although he did not specify how much has been spent — or how much would be saved if the coverage was dropped.

His letter cited costs: "The action of the City Council in 1973 is laudable, but changes in accidental disability laws since then have caused the increased risk of unpredictable and unfunded financial burdens for the city," Vigeant wrote.

His proposed order came as a surprise to police. More than a dozen commanders attended the City Council meeting Monday in protest. Attorney Jamie Goodwin, who represents the city's police command staff, said the mayor is treating retired public safety employees differently than other city employees — whose expenses would still be covered if they retired under accidental disability. This, he said, despite the fact that police work and firefighting is inherently dangerous.

As an example, he said, the benefit would cover medical treatments for certain types of cancer associated with firefighting. Or, if a retired police officer required knee replacement due to an on-the-job injury, it would cover those bills. He did not have statistics about how many public safety employees in Marlborough had qualified for benefits under the local coverage.
 
Goodwin, who is employed at Sandulli Grace of Boston, said he was not aware of another city or town that was proposing such a move. "This shouldn't even go to a council vote," he said.

City Councilors discussed the mayor's position briefly Monday, before voting to refer it to a council subcommittee on operations and oversight. Several said Monday they would not consider a decrease in benefits for injured employees. "For us not to take care of our [employees] sends the wrong message," said Mark Oram, an at-large councilor.

Councilor Donald Landers, who represents Ward 7, noted the policy of covering the expenses had been on the books for 41 years. He then referred to the "financial burdens" language used by the mayor: "What about the burdens of firemen and policemen who get hurt on the job?"

The subcommittee will likely discuss the proposal in the next two weeks, he said. Information will be needed on how much the city has spent in the past on this, he said.

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