Many in the audience at last week’s Andover Board of Selectmen meeting believed that the OBEB (retiree health insurance) reforms being considered were nothing other than an attack on town retirees. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
The looming financial crisis that is the unfunded OPEB liability affects all of the citizens of Andover past, present and most importantly, future. If we do not resolve this unsustainable debt now, it will grow to over $650 millions by 2030. Every year that goes by, the portion of the town budget that will be required to service that debt will eat into funds available to pay for all other expenses. We will lose the ability to pay for teachers and staff necessary to educate our children well; we won’t be able to employ enough police and firefighters to keep us safe; we will lose the ability to provide the level of services that heretofore have made Andover one of the most attractive towns in all of Massachusetts.
Reforms to the OPEB program that stem the cost overruns while maintaining quality healthcare for all retirees will result in gradual increases in costs going forward and retirees in general will need to contribute 49.9 percent of the annual premium while the town pays 50.1 percent. This is not unusual in the business world nor is it unreasonable in the public sector. This reform alone will not fully resolve the crisis but it is a good start.
The partial measures that were adopted last week represent a beginning for the town to finally come to grips with a longstanding problem. Further reforms to the ways our town spends tax revenues are being developed that will affect all citizens equitably. No one is looking to lay blame on any one group, we are all in this together and we will all need to contribute to the solution.
To those at the meeting who called the reforms “immoral” because they punish “the very people who have made Andover great,” I would say to them: “You are not the only ones who contribute to the quality of life here. There are some 34,000 citizens living, working, volunteering, and loving Andover just as much as you do and they are not getting paid for their contributions. What makes Andover great is not just the public sector employees. There are 10 times more of us who run businesses, volunteer for committees, run in charity races, support religious institutions, shop in town, eat in restaurants, maintain and walk the trails, etc., and we pay the overwhelming share of the taxes.
All of Andover’s citizens have and will continue to make this town a wonderful place to live, work and for some, raise a family. The OPEB reforms passed at last week’s meeting do not “turn our backs to those who made this town what is.” Doing nothing to resolve the funding crisis now “turns our backs” on all the future generations of Andover citizens whether they work for the town or not.
Roy Dobbelaar and Jane Axelrod
Moreland Avenue, Andover