Danedri Thompson
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The Gardner City Council didn’t close in quite the traditional fashion on June 20.
Instead, three council members left the meeting as an argument broke out between the mayor and one council member.
“That’s bull——,” Mayor Dave Drovetta told council member Larry Fotovich. By the end of the argument, Drovetta stood inches from Fotovich near his council seat.
A discussion about employee health benefits lead to the heated exchange. And specifically, an analogy Fotovich used to reason why many city employees select HMOs, a healthplan with additional costs to the city, rather than High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) with Health Savings Accounts.
Fotovich explained if the city were running a restaurant and offered to buy diners a bottle of wine and then offered them a $100 bottle and a $20 bottle, the diners would choose the $100 bottle. The HDHP is like the $20 bottle of wine. That wine might taste just as good as the $100 bottle, but most diners wouldn’t know, because they’d take the higher priced bottle.
The analogy upset city human resources manager Mary Bush.
“I’m offended,” she said in a shaky voice.
She said she deals with the employees everyday, and that limiting their health care options to only high deductible health plans would have a dramatic effect on the employees.
Council member Fotovich responded that he’s trying to find ways to limit costs to the taxpayers – many of whom have HDHP themselves.
Drovetta said it’s not the council’s job to make healthcare decisions for citizens of the city and he agreed that Fotovich’s analogy was offensive.
The debate came at the end of a three-plus hour meeting. As Drovetta and Fotovich talked over one another council members Kristina Harrison, Brian Broxterman and Dennis Pugh gathered their things and left the meeting room.
Terry Norwood, CEO of Midwest Public Risk (MPR), said the city could reduce its healthcare costs in a number of ways. Currently, the city pays 80 percent of an employees’ healthcare costs for an individual plan and 85 percent of the cost of a family plan. Employees have the option of selecting one of two HMO plans, two-tiers of PPO or a HDHP with a Health Savings Account.
Kelly Kilgore, also of MPR, said some entities have opted not to offer HMOs to their employees.
“The High Deductible Health Plan is gaining in popularity,” she said.
In a high deductible plan, employees must pay a $6,000 deductible before any medical expenses are covered through insurance. Employees can funnel money tax-free into a health savings plan that rolls over each year and follows the employee in the event that they change jobs.
Kilgore said the plan can be beneficial for young, healthy people and the chronically ill. It allows healthier employees to build up a savings account and chronically ill employees the knowledge of a fixed amount they’ll need to spend on medical bills each year.
Fotovich inquired about potentially offering incentives to employees to take a HDHP before the meeting devolved.
The final moments of the meeting weren’t the only heated ones. There were also tense moments between council member Chris Morrow and the mayor after Morrow asked a series of questions related to a proposed 2012 budget item to spend $75,000 on a consultant to update the city’s comprehensive plan.
He and council member Fotovich questioned the value of a plan – updated in 2003 and and originated in 1996 – that hasn’t been followed.
Interim city administrator Melissa Mundt said the task of a comprehensive update is too big for the Community Development Department, which saw several staff planning positions cut in 2010.
Morrow said even when the city had several planners on staff, the city used consultants to update the comprehensive plan.
“We used (a planner) who had all the correct acronyms. We had extra planners, and as Larry (Fotovich) pointed out, the plan hasn’t gone according to plan,” Morrow said.
Drovetta told Morrow that staff wasn’t making up the need to hire a consultant.
“You were implying that we should be able to do that with contractors. If they could do that, staff would’ve. I don’t think there’s anyone up here capable of doing this. This is what cities do,” Drovetta said of the proposed update.
“I understand this is what city’s do. I understand that,” Morrow said. “I realize governance is ongoing. I don’t need a lecture on that.”
According to future budget estimates, the city’s budget will be short more than $600,000 in 2015. The 2012 budget proposal uses some of the city’s reserves, leaving three-month’s worth of expenditures in savings.
“What I’m looking for is careful consideration of everyone up here of the short fall that we’re going to have,” Morrow said. “…We need more than a three-months’ war chest. I don’t think it’s too much for somebody, and in this case it’s me, to ask if there are other ways we can do (a comprehensive plan update).”
Interim city administrator Melissa Mundt said council would have plenty of time to debate hiring a consultant before the budget is approved in August.
“I don’t need a decision tonight,” she said. “It’s built into next year’s budget.”
In other business:
• Council members approved a conditional use permit for Faith Chapel Gardner Campus Community Services to use Jazzercise space to conduct worship services. The planning commission and staff recommended that the conditional use permit be allowed with the stipulation that church capacity would be limited to 120 people and services and events take place between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The church anticipates hosting Saturday evening services.
• Council members passed an ordinance that levies special tax assessments on lots, homes and parcels of land in the Prairiebrooke Benefit District.
• Council members met in executive session for 35 minutes.