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City Council members to continue getting free health benefits

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2003 10:00 pm

Councilman Keith Land thought it would be appropriate for City Council members to pay a share of their medical insurance premium, just as they were asking city employees to do. He thought wrong.

Following an hour-long discussion, council members decided to do nothing, essentially allowing each to continue collecting benefits without chipping in for the premiums.

Land recommended the change because, during negotiations, the City Council has been asking employees to pay a piece of their premiums.

City Council members - and their dependents - currently receive medical, dental, vision, life insurance and chiropractic benefits at no cost.

Howard is the only council member who has declined the city's benefit package.

City Attorney Randy Hays confirmed at Wednesday's City Council meeting that most cities make available benefits to council members, while City Manager Dixon Flynn said it's actually an incentive to urge good candidates to run for election.

But City Hall watchdog Eileen St. Yves said council members shouldn't receive insurance benefits from the city, in part because some of the members can obtain benefits elsewhere.

All five council members either have jobs or access to medical insurance through their spouse's employer.

Additionally, St. Yves said, council members are not employees who can be hired and fired.

"I don't think the taxpayers should pay for you. Every one of you should pay for yourself," she added.

But council members said receiving the benefits at no cost helps make up for the $500 monthly stipend each receive. Land said for the amount of time he puts into the position last week, he made $2 to $3 an hour between travel and time to read agenda material.

"I did not decide to run for City Council for the pay," he added.

Councilman Larry Hansen agreed, adding that he didn't know what he got himself into.

"The reading alone is overwhelming."

Additionally, he said, council members don't receive regular paid holidays, uniform allowances or tuition reimbursement.

"I consider the sacrifices I make worthy of the $500 and the benefits," Hansen added.

"God bless anyone who sits on the City Council and works full-time."

Even Mayor Susan Hitchcock, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, agreed, claiming it is good for the city to provide some kind of free benefit package to council members.

At one point, council members discussed paying for their benefits based on a percentage formula.

Land even made a motion suggesting they pay $10 a month for dependent coverage, an amount comparable to the percentage they're asking employees to pay. But that motion failed to garner a second.

Under the employees' new payment schedule, Lodi Electric Utility Department and mid-management staffers with spouses and other family members recently negotiated to contribute a portion of their insurance premiums. Employees who insure themselves and one other family member will pay $80 per month, while those with families jumped to $104 per month. Single employees will pay nothing.

Councilman John Beckman, however, pointed out that employees who are being asked to help pay their own benefits are getting "some pretty hefty" raises.

"It was appropriate for city employees to begin to pay a portion," he added.

In the end, the new council member admitted Wednesday it was hard making the decision, especially since it could influence his pocketbook.

"We're all conflicted because we're all going to be affected," he said.

"Voting on my own benefits bothers me."

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