Crestwood aldermen nix firefighters’ request to hike city’s share of insurance

Aldermen vote 6-2 to retain existing rates for insurance

By Mike Anthony

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last week to retain existing percentages for the city’s contribution to employee health-insurance premiums, rejecting a request by firefighters that the city’s share be increased to 89 percent for all employees.

Because of the city’s significant savings on employee health insurance for 2014-2015, two city firefighters requested in May that Crestwood’s contribution for health-insurance premiums be the same for all employees — 89 percent.

At the May 27 Board of Aldermen meeting, Steve Toelke, shop steward for Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and Thomas Duncan, Local 2665 assistant shop steward, cited the city’s savings of nearly $395,000 on health insurance and noted that if the city increased its contribution to 89 percent for all employees, that savings still would total nearly $337,000.

Aldermen voted May 27 to approve UnitedHealthcare’s proposal for health insurance that includes a $3,000 deductible instead of the $5,000 deductible of the city’s previous carrier, Anthem. Of that deductible, employees pay the first $1,000.

The board also agreed to retain Guardian as the city’s dental insurance carrier with a 4-percent increase in premiums.

Both plans run July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

Aldermen agreed to revisit the firefighters’ request regarding increasing the city’s share of employee health insurance.

In a June 18 memo to Mayor Gregg Roby and the Board of Aldermen, City Administrator Mark Sime recommended that the four tiers for the city’s contribution to employee health-insurance premiums remain unchanged at 89 percent for single employees, 79 percent for employee and spouse, 79 percent for employee and children and 71 percent for family coverage.

In his memo, Sime noted that under the new UnitedHealthcare plan, all employees would receive a roughly 40-percent reduction in their health insurance costs.

Savings would range from $438 for single employees to $3,176 for employees with family coverage.

City staff also surveyed 17 cities that use four-tier percentages for employee health-insurance premiums and found that Crestwood’s percentages are roughly the average for the 17 cities, Sime wrote.

He presented four possible courses of action for the board to consider:

• Retain the current percentages.

• Adjust the premium percentages to the averages for the 17 cities surveyed. Savings would range from $621 for single employees to $3,845 for employees with family coverage. The additional cost to the city would be $17,299.

• Adjust the premium for family coverage to equal employee and spouse coverage and coverage for children. Employees with family coverage would save $4,515. All other employees would have no additional savings. The additional cost to the city would be $14,726.

• Adjust the city’s share of premiums for all employees to 89 percent, as requested by firefighters. Single employees would not realize any savings. Employees with spouse coverage would save $2,890, employees with children would save $2,532 and employees with family coverage would save $6,188. The additional cost to the city would be $55,818.

At the June 24 meeting, Duncan presented a four-page handout to the board, which he termed “a rebuttal” to Sime’s memo.

Regarding Sime’s contention that the city’s contribution percentages are roughly the average for the 17 cities, Duncan said, “I ask you, why must we be average? Average is a ‘C.’ Average didn’t conquer the West or discover new lands. Average will not conquer the obstacles facing the city …”

In his memo, Sime wrote, “The city-provided health-care insurance is a benefit primarily to provide insurance for the employee. As an additional benefit to some employees, the city has agreed to subsidize the majority of the insurance for their families. The percentages have not changed from the current percentages for many years.”

In response, Duncan said, “… The employees of the city have chosen careers with the city to take care of your families, and are only asking that you help us better take care of ours.”

Sime also wrote, “If there is a desire by the city to use the unexpected savings on health-care insurance premiums for employee benefit, a better course of action would be to contemplate providing for a potential pay adjustment next year. The city might also consider other desires, such as improving the way the city provides other city services, repair and maintenance of city capital assets or to build the desired city reserve.”

Duncan told the board, “As of Jan. 1, 2014, the city had a reserve fund balance of roughly $6.4 million to include $575,000 just in the general fund. Of that, the Fire Department budget decreased by nearly $98,000 in fiscal year 2014 due to the retirements, and then we were granted 1 percent — or $18,000 of the total salary — was given to be spread across 23 of the department personnel for pay increases.

“Again, most of these people have not seen anything in 10 years — other than some may have gotten a total of 2 percent. Some only got 0.5 percent raises, so they got 1.5 (percent). With both the Fire Department savings and the health-insurance savings, the city will gain $500,000 to their reserve accounts. How much larger must the reserve balances be to see something come the way of the employee? The change to the contribution is not a pay increase, as we have already earned this salary. We just want to see more on our paychecks.”

Duncan asked the board to increase the contribution to 89 percent for all employees “to demonstrate to the city’s employees that their hard work and sacrifices over the years have not gone unnoticed and been done in vain … Pass on some of the windfall savings to the employees. The employees that I have spoken to about potential changes (to the contribution percentages) had very large smiles on their faces and were happy to think of potential for some fiscal relief after years of hardships.

“But they are very skeptical that the city will do anything for them. The morale of the employees of this city is that of a defeated person. Give them a win. Give them something to smile about and give them a new outlook on the city …”

The board initially voted 5-3 to reject Sime’s recommendation that the insurance contributions remain unchanged. Voting in favor of the city administrator’s recommendation were Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach, Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild and Ward 4 Alderman Michael Vincent.

However, Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood, who earlier had said he would support Sime’s recommendation, asked for a motion to reconsider the previous vote.

After the vote for reconsideration was approved, the board voted 6-2 in favor of Sime’s recommendation. Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding and board President Mike Tsichlis of Ward 4.