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Solving The City’s Healthcare Issue The Right Way Will Be Worth The Wait

Mayor Eddie Sundquist has taken an important first step toward hopefully resolving one of the city’s biggest recurring cost issues — retiree health care.

The mayor moved too quickly in trying to move retirees off of the city’s health care plan as part of the 2021 budget. Counting on the projected $1 million in savings was always difficult because imposing a change on the city’s unions invites lawsuits — and the city hasn’t fared well when challenging its bargaining units in court.

Negotiated changes, then, are preferable to unilateral action.

The city has taken the first step by reinvigorating a health care committee that will include members of the administration, union members and retirees together to talk.

That’s a good first step, but it’s also an easy step. The second step is much harder — all sides keeping a cool head as difficult discussions are had. For years the city has seen about 90% of its budget tied up in salary and benefits for city workers. The only way to lower the city’s tax burden or create money for new programs is to lower that percentage, and that means change.

City officials also must be especially careful during these discussions. We have seen over the course of the past three decades the lasting impact of employee negotiations. What seems fair in 2021 may have unintended consequences decades down the road.

Resolving the city’s retiree health care issue isn’t going to happen quickly, but taking the time to do it right is worth the wait.

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