Following weeks of discussion and a heated debate at its Dec. 11 meeting, Bexley City Council voted 4-3 to renew its current employee health plan, rather than alter benefits to save the city money.
Renewing the existing plan will mean a 9 percent increase in costs to the city, at about $44,000 a year.
Councilman Matt Lampke, chairman of the finance committee, had recommended that the city change the high-end insurance coverage for employees, with a savings of $39,000 a year by increasing the amount participants contribute.
Lampke also recommended that the mid-tier coverage be changed to a health savings account plan. The city’s insurance consultant, David Kessler, had reported that this plan would save the city $1,500 for every individual and $3,000 for every family that signed up.
"We’re cutting (budgets) in every department" to close a $2.6 million deficit, Lampke said. "Every place we can cut costs is important."
The health savings account be an option and would not be forced on employees, Lampke said, adding that Bexley is behind the times in not offering this type of coverage.
The 9 percent increase for a renewal is double the national average, Lampke pointed out.
He was joined by Rick Weber and Jeff McClelland in voting for the change in benefits.
"It’s absurd not to take this opportunity," Weber said.
Other council members were concerned that the changes were too complicated to explain to employees in the short time before the plan would take effect in January.
"I won’t support anything but a straight renewal," Council President Mark Masser said during the finance committee meeting. "It takes longer than 20 days to educate employees on something like this."
John Rohyans, Robyn Jones, Hanz Wasserburger and Masser cast no votes on the proposed changes.
Masser contended that officials did not have firm numbers on the potential savings, and that the move could end up costing the city more money defending the changes.
Police Chief Larry Rinehart warned that the changes could create some ill will among employees as the city approaches contract negotiations in 2008.
Service Director Dorothy Pritchard added her own cautionary note, reminding council members of a dispute over insurance benefits during a recent round of negotiations with the police union.
"That cost us in the next round of bargaining, and it could cost us this summer," Pritchard said.
The city is scheduled to enter contract talks with four employee bargaining units next year.
Mayor David Madison agreed that there wasn’t enough time to educate employees on the changes.
"We shouldn’t have waited this long," he said.
Mayor-elect John Brennan said he also thought the new plan was "too convoluted…I don’t think half the people in the room can explain this."
He referred to the high-end coverage as a "Cadillac plan" that is unheard of among city governments.
Brennan favored the straight renewal, and he endorsed Rohyan’s suggestion that a committee be formed to study the entire employee benefits package.