Porterdale approves pay raise, insurance premium for employees

PORTERDALE - It took an orchestrated effort Monday night, but the City Council was able to require employees to contribute to the cost of their health insurance premiums without hitting them too hard in the pocketbook.

Through a series of motions the council voted to give sanitation workers, the city manager and the city court clerk cost of living raises, while requiring all city employees to pay $10 toward their health insurance premiums.

After deliberating at several meetings on the issue of requiring employees to pay part of their health insurance premiums, council members had agreed to balance the new expense against a 3 percent cost of living raise. The raise will affect nine employees. Porterdale has 16 employees who are eligible for the health insurance coverage.

Councilman Mike Harper first made a motion Monday night to give sanitation workers a 3 percent pay increase, effective July 1. That measure passed unanimously.

The health insurance issue was addressed later in the meeting when Councilwoman Linda Finger made a motion to require city employees to pay $10 a week toward their premiums. Harper seconded the motion, but concerns were raised because the 3 percent raise had been approved only for sanitation workers.

"This is not rolling out the way we talked about it at the work session," Councilwoman Arline Chapman said.

Finger's motion was then tabled, and Harper made a motion to amend the agenda to discuss pay increases for additional employees. That motion passed unanimously, and the council went on to discuss adding the city manager and court clerk positions to those receiving pay increases. The motion to add the positions was approved unanimously. Harper pointed out that the town's police officers were not included in the pay raise because they are allowed to take home their patrol cars, which he said is equivalent to a raise.

Finger's original motion to require premium contributions of $10 per week per employee was then brought back before the council and was approved unanimously. The change will become effective July 1.

Insurance agent Neal Lang had advised the council at a May work session that the city is open to liability because employees are currently not required to pay any portion of their medical insurance premiums. "That's one thing you've got to change," said Lang.

Lang said that since employees currently pay no portion of their insurance premiums, they are not required to sign a document opting out of the plan. That leaves the city open to claims from employees who don't sign up for the insurance but who later want to make a claim.

Charging even $1 a month for the insurance premiums would make it necessary for employees who don't want the coverage to sign a document opting out of the plan, Lang said.

In addition, Lang said some employees who may already have medical insurance coverage through a spouse may also have the Porterdale coverage simply because it's free to them - which winds up costing the city more.

The city provides only medical insurance through Kaiser Permanente - no vision or dental coverage - and covers only its employees. Premiums for spouses and children must be fully paid by the employee.

City Manager Tom Fox renegotiated the city's policy with Kaiser Permanente this year and was able to reduce the city-paid per-employee premium from $340 a month to $299 per month. At the same time, the employee-paid deductible for hospitalization increased from $250 to $500.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com.