Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:31 PM on Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Budget changes debated

Charging employees for health insurance once again examined

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

Less money for library books, the Pratt Museum and the Homer Chamber of Commerce. More money for Homer Hockey and the Homer Boys & Girls Club. A charge to city employees for health insurance.

Those were some of the suggestions Homer City Council members made Monday night in the latest round of budget proposals as they work toward finalizing the budget by Dec. 12.

The council also held another public hearing Monday, with a final budget hearing at the Dec. 12 meeting. The council is considering a proposed $21 million budget, including $10.7 million for the general fund.

Council members Kevin Hogan and Francie Roberts proposed city employees pay part of the insurance premium for health insurance. The city self insures its employees and unlike other Alaska municipal governments and private businesses, does not charge a premium.

Hogan proposed employees kick in $77,520.

"What I want to see is there start being some sort of ownership on the employees' part on the cost of health care," Hogan said.

Roberts suggested employees pay 6 percent of the estimated $1,150.62 a month the city budgets per employee for health care, for a total $1.5 million in the 2012 budget. That would come to $69.04 a month per employee, according to Roberts' proposal. Roberts also proposed balancing that for 2012 with an $855 bonus. While not a percent cost-of-living-allowance increase, it would give city employees a raise they haven't received in past budgets that did not appropriate an across-the-board cost of living salary increase.

"I think it's time to start paying a small premium," Roberts said.

City Manager Walt Wrede said an employee committee has been considering the issue of paying health care premiums, setting a deductible and prescription drug co-pays, and other employee contributions to health care. Wrede said that if health care is a budget issue, the council should give employees a number to come up with and they will tell the council how to get there.

Hogan also proposed cutting funding to the Pratt Museum and the Homer Chamber of Commerce. He suggested cutting $35,500 of $66,500 to the museum and $21,375 — the total suggestion amount — to the chamber. Hogan would use part of those cuts for new grants of $10,000 to the Homer Hockey Association and $21,385 to the Boys & Girls Club.

"I'm going to side on spending our money for the city's youth and people who are less fortunate," Hogan said. "The Boys & Girls Club and Homer Hockey are much more important than the museum."

At the public hearing, Pratt Museum Educational Director Ryjil Christianson noted the city grant would pay for operational funds. The museum can get grants for educational programs like summer youth programs, she said.

Council member Bryan Zak and Roberts supported the Pratt.

"We really need at this time to get behind them," Zak said, speaking of the Pratt's current capital campaign to design, construct and fund a new building.

Roberts also noted the city's past obligations to fund the Pratt. She said a lot of the funding issues could be solved for cultural, sport and recreational activities if the city formed a local service area.

"A very tiny mill rate, a point zero one, would fund all the organizations' needs and more," she said.

Council members Zak and Hogan proposed cutting the library books budget $3,878 and $6,000 respectively.

Hogan said he wanted to cut the chamber's budget because he's heard from businesses that it doesn't support all businesses in the community — a reference to the chamber's support for halibut charter captains in the Catch Sharing Plan issue.

Chamber Executive Director Monte Davis told the council the economic development grant to the chamber would pay for marketing and advertising Homer.

"Your dollars get turned into a lot of marketing," he said.

With the final public hearing on Dec. 12, the council delayed passing the budget until then, its final scheduled meeting. Under the city code, the council has until Dec. 21 to pass a budget.