City mulls changes to insurance

PORTERDALE - City Council members appear to be in agreement that city employees should pay a portion of their health insurance premium. The sticking point for the council is how much they should pay.

In previous years, Porterdale employees have not been required to pay any of the premium amount for health insurance. The city provides only medical insurance - no vision or dental coverage - and covers only its employees. Premiums for spouses and children must be fully paid by the employee.

Porterdale employs approximately 12 people.

City Manager Tom Fox renegotiated the city's policy with Kaiser 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.

The council had previously discussed requiring employees to pay $10 per week to cover a portion of their insurance premium; however, at Monday night's council meeting, Fox proposed that employees contribute 5 percent of the premium for the first year, or $3.73 per week, 10 percent the second year and 15 percent the third year.

Fox said the incremental increases will give employees time to adjust to the premium payments.

Councilwoman Linda Finger pointed out that the council had already discussed the matter and come to the consensus that employees would pay $10 per week, an amount, she said, that is reasonable considering the cost of insurance.

"Health insurance, personally, I pay $400 a month. How can they complain about $40 a month?" she asked.

Mayor Bobby Hamby and Councilwoman Arline Chapman expressed concern that $10 a week could be a burden for some employees and could generate a morale problem among workers who did not receive a raise this year.

"I think some of our employees could handle $40 a month, but some of our employees would be hit really hard," Chapman said.

"Employees are an important asset," Hamby said. "For those who don't remember years past, our employees changed monthly."

The city has worked hard since then to improve working conditions and benefits and, as a result, now has a relatively stable work force, Hamby said.

"We need to show them that they are not just a commodity that we are willing to throw away at the drop of a hat," he said.

Hamby added that the city is already realizing a savings of $40 a month per employee on the premiums due to the renegotiated rate, while the employees' deductible amount doubled.

Chapman made a motion that the city implement the 5 percent increases per year for three years; Councilman Mike Harper seconded the motion. Councilman Robert Foxworth abstained and Finger opposed the motion. Without three positive votes, the motion failed. Councilwoman Kay Piper was absent from the meeting due to a family illness.

The issue will be brought back before the council at a future meeting.

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