Ten city employees attended a special called meeting Wednesday to discuss the city’s 2013-2014 budget. The city unanimously approved $3.21 million in appropriations without any significant changes from an earlier proposal by mayor Nancy Slaton. But council members did hear from some of the employees attending after discussions began last month to possibly stop the city’s policy of paying for worker insurance.
George Crady, water department superintendent, said a family medical emergency last year made him realize the extent of previous cost-cutting changes.
“It hit me hard, the difference in what I had to pay, for co-pays, for maximum out-of-pocket expense, medicine, doctors visits,” Crady said. “Since I’ve been here, insurance has always been considered part of our compensation. You’re not really looking at insurance, you’re looking at our salaries. If you take those benefits away, you’re essentially cutting out salaries.”
Lynn Orange, who works in the mayor’s office,said employees had already taken a a reduction in compensation last year with a downgrade in their insurance.
“I know there’s been a lot of discussion because in the private sector, family insurance premiums paying 100 percent is just unheard of, but that’s part of the total compensation package,” Orange said. “A year ago this time, we were facing unknown great expenditure for a project that went awry due to some contractor issues. We were tightening our belt because we didn’t know what we were looking at. Right there we took a pay cut. We agreed to bite the bullet with the insurance.... You’ve got a good group of people that have sacrificed for the city when we were asked to.”
Currently, the city provides insurance at no cost to workers as a benefit. Insurance costs are expected to rise as portions of the Affordable Care Act come into effect. Slaton said the city was unable to determine exactly how much insurance will cost the city, but policy forecasts have bee delayed at insurance providers try to provide estimates.
Slaton defended leaving the benefit package in place.
“Our employees did not get a raise last year,” Slaton said.
“Not only did they not get a raise, but their insurance package was cut, so really they took a loss in income.... I’m happy to be able to present to this council the first surplus balanced budget that’s been submitted or approved in over a decade. I stand behind this budget.”
Slaton said an error in allocations to the street department’s retirement funding was corrected, resulting in an additional surplus.
“We found that while we understated the general labor expenses, we overstated the labor expenses for the street and the police department,” Slaton said.
“After those corrections, we now have an increase in the amount of money we plan to put in our reserve fund, from $35,231 to $51,369.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the budget on first reading. A second reading will be held today (June 26) at 6 p.m.
Also scheduled for the special meeting will be the first reading of an alcoholic beverage ordinance amendment for license fees.