Resident takes board to task over cost of health insurance

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2004

A Brookhaven resident took city leaders to task for insurancespending, but the city’s insurance agent defended the policy aslooking out for employees Tuesday night during a public budgethearing.

Citing his review of city spending plans, resident John Perkinssaid city employee health insurance is the second-largest budgetitem. He said the city spends $1.5 million, or 14 percent, onhealth insurance as part of an overall $11 million for the generalfund, water and sewer and solid waste budgets.

“I think this is clearly excessive. We can’t continue to do it,”Perkins said.

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With the city paying approximately $600 a month for anemployee’s coverage and more than $1,000 a month if dependents arecovered, Perkins said an average $10 an hour worker is getting theequivalent of $23.50 an hour. A city employee pays $55 a month ashis share of insurance costs for dependent coverage.

Perkins went on to compare the city’s health insurance plan withthat of the state.

Perkins said state employees pay half their insurance costs,about $280, and the state pays the other half. The state policydoes not cover as much as the city’s does.

The state plan should be the “gold standard” for insurance,Perkins said.

“This ought to be the basis by which you judge your plan,”Perkins told board members.

Also, Perkins said covering part-time employees, like aldermen,elevates insurance costs considerably. He urged the board to seekbids on city insurance plans and said not doing so leaves open thepossibility of corruption.

Insurance agent Sylvia King, who was in the audience, tookexception to Perkins’ corruption comment. Perkins said he wasmaking a generic statement not aimed at any individual.

Following Perkins’ comments, King took the floor to refute someof the citizen’s claims. She contrasted her more than 20 years inthe insurance business to Perkins’ background as a commercialairline pilot.

“I will not suppose that I know how to fly an airplane if you donot suppose to know how to write an insurance contract,” Kingsaid.

Citing terminal costs, King said changing insurance would causeto the city to have to spend $60,000 to $100,000 unnecessarily.

She went on to say that re-insurance companies don’t want tocover part-time officials. She also said some companies will notbid because of coverage of firefighters, policemen and others isinvolved.

“This is a difficult type of business to insure,” King said.

King said she agreed with Perkins on the desire to get the mostcost-effective policy possible.

“But I also see they have to protect the laborer,” said King,discussing the need for “empathy and sympathy” with thewage-earners’ situations.

King indicated a $500 deductible would be a hardship on cityworkers. The current policy has a $250 deductible.

City officials have budgeted a 3 percent decrease in healthinsurance costs for the new budget year that starts Oct. 1.

Aldermen had little to say in response to the insurance commentsfrom Perkins. Alderman at large Les Bumgarner said the state hasmore buying power in seeking insurance rates and the city is noteligible for coverage under that plan.

“We’re at a disadvantage. I think the state should take in allthe cities,” Bumgarner said.

In other budget areas, Perkins said city officials areunderfunding paving needs for the new year. City fathers haveincluded $120,000 for paving next year.

Perkins said more money is needed and the board should develop along-range plan for paving bases on need and not location byward.

“Then you’d have some sense of logic in what you’re doing,”Perkins said.

Also last night, Mayor Bob Massengill said he had spoken withTraffic Supervisor Jimmy Furlow and Kenny Goza, Entergy customerservice manager, about funding for new lights, utility poles andelectricity costs. Massengill said they recommended including$10,000 in the budget to begin addressing light pole concerns.

“That won’t take care of all the lights we need, but it’ll takecare of some in certain areas,” Massengill said.

Aldermen are expected to approve the budget, which calls for newproperty tax levy increases for city operations, at their Sept. 7meeting. The new budget year starts Oct. 1.