Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:38 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2011

City employees ask for more time to come up with other options

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

For years, having city employees pay a premium for their health insurance has been a topic of conversation around the Homer City Council table. Monday, the council decided it was time to do more than talk about it and approved an employee committee proposal that will take effect in three months to allow the change to be coordinated.

In addition to the $100 individual deductible and $300 family deductible now paid, city employees will begin paying the following health insurance premiums:

• $17.84 per pay period, $463.84 annually, for each employee;

• $56.75 per pay period, $1,475.50 annually, for each spouse;

• $4.81 per pay period, $125.06 annually, for each child.

Council members Kevin Hogan and Francie Roberts had offered proposals in November.

Hogan suggested employees contribute a total of $77,520. Roberts proposed employees pay 6 percent of an estimated $1,150.62 per month the city budgets per employee for health care, for a total $1.5 million in the 2012 budget. The employee committee's proposal, presented to the council by Matt Clarke, committee chair, offered a third option.

Although a memo from the committee to Mayor James Hornaday and the council said "the entire employee body" voted on the proposal, with 75 percent approving the premium-only proposal, several employees spoke in opposition to it at Monday's meeting.

"My take-home pay would be less than when I started in 2008 as a full-time employee," said library employee Debbie Waldorf.

Todd Cook, wastewater utility superintendent, suggested there were "some ways where we could save some money other than cutting benefits."

"I ask that you table this, give us some time and get together next year," said Cook. "I was hired with a certain benefits package and certain wages. You still have my expertise. ... You're devaluing that if you make us lose wages and benefits."

Other employees also asked for more time to review options, expressed concerns they had been pushed into taking a vote or knew of employees who were either off duty or did not have access to computers so were unable to vote.

During the council's evening meeting, while Ordinance 11-41, the city's budget for 2012, was being addressed, Hogan made a motion to accept the Employee Committee's proposal and requested an update from the committee at the council's first meeting in January.

"I don't think we're asking a lot from employees relative to what other people are paying," said Roberts in support of Hogan's motion.

Council member Barbara Howard amended the motion to include a three-month period for notifying employees, providing an opportunity for the city's insurance broker and staff to work together to implement the change and "to set up housekeeping for a pretty big change in how we're doing business."

Howard's amendment passed, with only council members David Lewis and Bryan Zak voting in opposition.

The vote on the amended motion resulted in a three-to-three tie, with Hogan, Howard and Roberts voting yes and Lewis, Wythe and Zak voting no. With tie votes decided by the city mayor, all heads in the employee-crowded council chambers turned toward Mayor James Hornaday.

"Oh, you rascals," he said of being given the vote. "Well, I guess I would like to hear from the (city's) insurance broker, so I would like to say yes. It's implemented, but we want to hear what the broker has to say."