Council Eliminating Proposed Health Insurance Change In 2021 Budget

The Jamestown City Council held a special budget meeting Monday to discuss possible changes to the 2021 spending plan. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The proposed health insurance change for Medicare-eligible city retirees may not be included in the 2021 budget.

On Monday, the Jamestown City Council held a special budget meeting to work toward a finalizing next year’s spending plan, which the group is slated to vote on next week.

Kim Ecklund, At-Large councilwoman and Finance Committee chairwoman, said the proposed $1.1 million that was proposed to be saved through a change in retiree health insurance in Mayor Eddie Sundquist executive budget is not a viable option because the proposal was not negotiated with the city’s six bargaining units.

“Cramming it down and avoiding union contracts is not the way to do it,” she said. “The $1 million is unattainable to me.”

Last week, Sundquist and the council publicly discussed the proposed change that could save the city $1.1 million in health care costs. Sundquist said the change to his original proposal, which was going to be a Medicare supplement plan, is to move Medicare-eligible retirees from the city’s self-insured plan to a fully-insured plan with United Health Care. He said city retirees over the age of 65 would have the same medical, vision and dental coverage, with some additional coverage the city’s plan currently doesn’t offer. He said the only aspect that will be different is the personal insurance card would no longer have the city of Jamestown logo, but would have the United Health Care logo.

Of the nine members of the council, five others agreed with Ecklund — for a total of six — that the proposed health insurance change for retired employees older than 65 years old was not something that should be done next year. Marie Carrubba, Ward 4; Tom Nelson, Ward 6; Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, At-Large; Jeff Russell, At-Large; and Anthony Dolce, Ward 2 councilman and president; all said it wasn’t the right move to make.

“Given that we have to vote on a budget in a week, I don’t think it’s the right time,” he said. ‘The last thing we want to do on a budget this important is just push it through.”

Another issue discussed by the council during the meeting is the proposal to double the cost of parking at downtown parking meters and to increase fine amounts. Again, several of the council members voiced their displeasure for the proposal to increase the cost of parking at a meter.

Dolce said, again, it’s a timing issue because many of the businesses downtown are already suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so increasing fees to park in the city could add to their troubles. Vickye James, Ward 3 councilwoman, said the proposal to possibly give people a free 20 minutes is exciting, but because of the unknowns surrounding the pandemic, she doesn’t believe it’s the right time to make a change.

“If it wasn’t COVID time and it looks like we’re getting ready to have a second wave,” she said.

Grant Olson, Ward 5 councilman, said a lot of downtown businesses are opposed to raising the cost, but he doesn’t want to lose the new technology that smart meters will provide to allow people to use their smartphones to pay for parking or to extend their stay in the space via an app.

Russell said he agrees with no meter cost increase, but has no problem if the fines increase because that is based on someone not being responsible. Ecklund asked Ryan Thompson, city comptroller, if he knew how much revenue is in the proposed budget for increasing the meter cost and fine hike. Thompson said the proposed revenue increase in next year’s budget is $69,000 for both the parking meter cost increase and fine hike.

Additional budget topics discussed included using $200,000 less in the contingency fund; adding $200,000 to projected sales tax revenues; eliminating new hirees; including no new equipment purchases; and trying to reduce overtime. Ecklund said even with all of the proposed changes to the executive budget, approximately $500,000 in fund balance will still need to be used to balance the spending plan. Thompson said the city at the end of 2019 had an unreserved fund balance of $3.9 million.

Dolce said the council for many years has been conservative and cautious in using the fund balance, but he doesn’t see any other choice.

“We’ve been able to build it up through the years,” he said. “I don’t want to have to use it.”

The council is slated to vote on the proposed budget at its voting session meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The council has a Dec. 1 deadline to pass a budget or the mayor’s proposal becomes the spending plan next year. The mayor has five days after Dec. 1 to propose any vetos to the council’s approved budget. The council then has a veto override deadline of Dec. 20, which would require two-thirds of the council’s approval to overturn any mayoral vetos.


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