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Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Vote nears on spousal insurance

By William Kincaid
CELINA - City council members continue to debate whether to charge a fee for elected officials whose spouses want health insurance coverage through the city instead of their employer.
At a council of a whole committee meeting Monday night, council agreed to add a spousal surcharge amendment to a tabled ordinance covering the salaries and benefits of the auditor, law director, mayor and judge. Council members are expected to vote on the ordinance at their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at city hall.
The proposal is intended as a cost-savings measure and possible precedent when negotiating with city union employees in the future. Councilman Jeff Larmore said the issue at hand deals just with the spouses of elected officials.
Elected officials now pay a fee for whichever insurance plan they choose; the surcharge would be in addition to that fee and apply only to spouses who have insurance available through their employer.
According to city auditor Emily Stewart, the state attorney general's office said there is no case law on the topic of adding a surcharge for spouses of elected officials. But if a surcharge is based directly or indirectly on the health status or gender of workers, state and federal laws may be implicated, according to Mary Jo Hudson of the Ohio Department of Insurance.
Stewart said some public entities have policies that push the spouses of employees to take insurance offered by their employers.
Larmore added that such policies are common in the private sector.
Councilwoman Angie King asked if council could wait and make the change when it would effect both elected officials and city workers. Larmore pointed out that officials are elected for four years, and the next city union agreements won't be negotiated for another three years.
Councilman Myron Buxton expressed concern about the compensation of the mayor if the new surcharge clause is added.
King asked if council should increase the mayor's pay - currently $15,000 a year - to make up for the surcharge.
Larmore said the main goal is to get spouses to stay with their own employer's insurance plan but added he is not against a possible raise.
Councilman Ed Jeffries opposed the idea of increasing the mayor's compensation.
Councilman Bill Sell said council would potentially be pulling the rug out from underneath the three current mayoral candidates by making changes now. It would not be right to add a surcharge without increasing the pay for a mayor that is already overworked and underpaid, he said.
Larmore said he views the mayoral pay rather straightforward: the person in charge earns roughly $35,000, $15,000 in salary and $20,000 in insurance.
King said the mayor's salary would be more like $13,000 if a spousal surcharge were added.
"I don't have a problem with raising it $1,000," King said.
Sovinski said he is not in favor of changing the insurance policy now. He also said union employees will not care whether the spouses of four elected officials have to pay a health insurance surcharge when it comes time to negotiate a new contract in a few years.
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