Porterdale workers will have to pay for portion of insurance

PORTERDALE - In the third round of discussions on the topic, the City Council agreed to require city employees to pay a portion of their medical insurance premiums. The discussion took place at a work session Tuesday night; the decision won't become official until the council votes on it, which could come at the next regular meeting June 2.

After discussion of various amounts, the council reached a consensus to charge each employee covered under the plan $10 per week. Councilwoman Arline Chapman, who had argued for a lesser amount at the last council meeting, was absent from Tuesday's work session.

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

Lang said that since employees 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. Porterdale's medical insurance covers approximately 12 people.

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.

The council had wrestled with the question of how much of the premium to require employees to pay due to the potential financial burden on employees. After agreeing Tuesday to require the $10 per week, the council agreed to discuss a possible pay increase for employees to help offset the premiums.

Porterdale employees have not received a raise this year, and Mayor Bobby Hamby said he believes some kind of raise should follow the decision to charge for insurance premiums.

Though not opposed to discussing a pay increase for employees, Councilman Mike Harper expressed concern about the city's future financial picture.

"The whole purpose of not giving a raise is that we don't want to end up like the city of Atlanta," said Harper, referring to job reductions taking place there.

Harper urged caution as the city makes financial commitments.

"Come December, we're going to be sitting right here looking at each other saying, "What did we do wrong? We ain't got no money,'" he warned.

Councilwoman Linda Finger reminded council members that they have already added $18,000 to the city's payroll this year.

At the suggestion of Councilwoman Kay Piper, the council agreed to settle on $10 a week for employee premiums and to discuss the issue of raises at a future date.

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