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  • By Lisa Brody

Police retirees' suit against township thrown out

A lawsuit filed on November 20, 2017, against Bloomfield Township by a group of retired township police officers, who asserted that a change in their health care benefits violated their collective bargaining agreement promising lifetime benefits at a certain level, was disposed of in a summary disposition in favor of the township by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Martha Anderson on Tuesday, May 8.

In March 2017, long-term retirees in Bloomfield Township were notified of changes to their health care benefits to match the health care policy current employees and retirees since 2011 receive. At a board of trustees meeting, township supervisor Leo Savoie explained that the township held an open meeting for all retirees and their families, that it is part of a health savings account, a tax-advantaged medical savings account that may have a higher deductible. He said the township promised them health care benefits, but that to be fiscally responsible to all taxpayers, some changes had to be made.

Savoie said that as more employees retiree, “there is a tsunami of health care changes coming,” including at the state level, with the governor creating a tax force to look into it. “There’s a good chance legislation is coming back, where both employees and retirees will have to pay 20 percent of their health care.”

In Bloomfield Township, the changes made have allowed them to put aside millions of dollars into the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) account. “We will continue to be a pay as you go account, and continue to put aside funds, so 30 to 40 years from now, we’ll have $30 to $40 million in VEBA. At no time will retiree health care be less than (what it is) for active employees,” Savoie said. “At the end of the day, HRA health care is a good plan.”

“The change to that retiree health care plan is just that – a change,” noted clerk Jan Roncelli at the March meeting. “You need to give it a chance to see how it works. It allows us to sustain the legacy for lifetime to retirees. The cost for a family is almost double what the cost was – and that’s $160,000 a year to the township.”

However, a group of retired police officers and firefighters disagreed, asserting they and their spouses had been guaranteed and promised the same level of health care benefits as when they retired.

Judge Anderson disagreed with the suit filed for eight former police officers. Anderson wrote, “The Court, having reviewed the parties' respective motion, response, amended reply, briefs in support and documentation...finds that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial in this matter…Plaintiffs' Complaint is dismissed in its entirety.”

The firefighters' suit against the township, before Oakland County Judge Dan O'Brien, is proceeding through its discovery phase.

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