|End to Lebanon Council's insurance could save money|
|Thursday, June 7, 2012|
By PATRICK HALL
A measure proposed to end access to the City of Lebanon’s group health insurance for city councilors would only affect one of the current members, said City Attorney Andy Wright, and would save the city money in the long run, noted Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath.
Warmath said the ordinance brought before Lebanon City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting, would have eliminated future councilors’ eligibility for health insurance from the city and ended a policy that let councilors who served two or more consecutive terms get back on the health insurance plan after they reached the age of 62, regardless of whether they were serving as a councilor at that time.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, the measure failed for lack of a motion.
“The intention was to let anyone that’s currently on the council to keep it, but to draw a line and say from that point on, future councilors cannot get the benefits,” Warmath said.
Lebanon councilors, mayor or appointees of the mayor are entitled to the city’s health insurance after being elected or appointed. According to Wright, the new measure would end that eligibility for council members and would not allow them to get back on the plan after turning 62 and having served two consecutive terms.“The only person it will potentially affect is (Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino), if he is re-elected,” Wright said. “No new councilor would have insurance if this passed.”
Cesternino is currently in his first term after being elected in 2010 and will not be up for re-election until 2014.
Wright said four councilors have city health insurance, including Cesternino, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston, Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler and Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes.
However, Wright noted Buhler has city health insurance and retirement benefits from serving as a city employee for more than 30 years.
“Every other councilor up there (other than Cesternino) has qualified according to that ordinance,” Wright explained.
Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry and Warmath do not have the city insurance. Warmath explained she has been on the council for nearly 20 years and used the city insurance in her first year, but after seeing the cost, she has waived it ever since.
According to Warmath, the city spends in excess of $600,000 a year on insurance and has seen increases in those costs every year for the past several years. She said the taxpayers should not foot the bill for councilor insurance.
Lebanon Commissioner of Finance and Revenue Russell Lee said at this time, a single-coverage health insurance plan costs the city $510.09 for each councilor. A councilor having a family-coverage plan would cost the city $1,352.76. He said a councilor pays $40 per month out of pocket for single-coverage and $160 per month for family-coverage.
“That’s exactly the same amount as any full-time employee,” Lee noted, adding the cost changes from year-to-year.
Currently, Lee said one councilor has single-coverage and two have family-coverage plans. Buhler’s insurance is excluded because of his status as a retired full-time city employee. Of the current councilors, the city pays $38,587.32 for their health insurance plans.
If all six councilors had a single-coverage plan, the city would pay $36,726.48 per year and $97,398.72 per year if all six councilors had a family-coverage plan.
Warmath also said if a councilor served two or more consecutive terms, the way the current policy is written, when that councilor turns 62, he or she can come back to the city for lifetime insurance, even if they only served two consecutive terms before attaining that age.
Wright also said once a councilor leaves office, he or she no longer is eligible for the insurance. However, when that councilor turns 62, if they had served two or more consecutive terms, they are currently able to get back on the city’s health insurance plan.
“No other part time elected official in Wilson County and in many other counties give themselves access to these benefits” Warmath said. “It puts an obligation on the general fund that the taxpayers have to pay.”
Several council members told The Wilson Post they weren’t directly opposed to the ordinance, but would rather see the issue taken up at a different time or during a work session to invite more discussion on the topic.
“It would seem to me it’s an important enough issue to hold a work session,” Barry said.
Cesternino said he was not informed about the ordinance and noted it was dropped into the agenda on short notice. He said the timing is not right to discuss the issue, considering the council is still in their budget process.
“I’m a little concerned about the timing,” he said. “No one had spoken to me about it.”
In addition to the timing of the ordinance, Cesternino said he felt this decision was better left up to the next council, following the Nov. 2 election, during which Wards 1, 2 and 5 are up for election. Huddleston and Barry have indicated they will not seek re-election.
“I don’t have a problem with the next council voting to say they don’t want this benefit,” Cesternino said.
Warmath said it was an issue that boiled down to “fiscal responsibility” and said she didn’t feel the taxpayers should be responsible for the council’s insurance and the city could curb some spending by passing the proposed ordinance.
“The whole deal is to restrain the city’s spending,” she said.