Monday, September 26, 2011

North Canton’s Health Insurance Benefits to Part-time Elected Officials Are Overly Generous

Prepared Comments Made to
September 26, 2011

It is no secret that the City of North Canton is struggling financially to maintain city services with reduced revenues. What I suspect is not widely known by residents is what compensation is provided to part-time North Canton elected officials while they serve in office.

North Canton’s Mayor receives a salary of $15,000 annually, the President of Council $5,700, and Councilmembers $4,800. North Canton’s part-time elected officials also are allowed full family health insurance benefits. The premiums and administration costs total $14,952.48 and with the employee’s payment of an 8.1 % co-pay, the cost to taxpayers for these health benefits come to $13,916.88 annually per official.

Part-time elected officials can choose to have individual health insurance coverage and the premiums and administrative costs total $5,777.76 and with the employee copay, the cost to taxpayers for these health benefits come to $5,380.08 annually.

It is my understanding one council member continues to keep his health insurance with his employer and one council member has chosen individual health insurance coverage. The remaining six part-time elected officials have chosen full family health insurance benefits provided by the city.

The annual difference in costs between family benefits versus individual benefits is $8,536.80 per part-time elected official and when multiplied times eight, full family health insurance coverage, if chosen, to seven part-time city council members and a part-time mayor amounts to added costs to taxpayers of $68,294.40 annually.

In 2002 when North Canton was contemplating a pay increase for elected officials, I researched salary and benefits of elected officials in nearby municipalities. At that time, four of the five municipalities contacted did not provide health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials. Those municipalities were Alliance, Canal Fulton, Louisville, and Massillon. Besides North Canton, only the City of Canton provided health insurance coverage for part-time officials. This has not changed.

When compared to the paid health insurance benefits provided by other area municipalities, North Canton’s health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials are overly generous.

I would urge this council to quickly pass legislation limiting health insurance to individual coverage and end family health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials.

This legislation would have to be enacted before the end of the present term of this council and would become effective with the incoming new council on December 1, 2011. If this council fails to act to restrict health insurance before the end of this council term, the city will lose out on a savings of nearly $140,000 over the next two years as Ohio law will not allow changes to compensation of elected officials in the term in which they are serving.

In the private sector, health insurance coverage is generally only available to individuals who work full-time. Is it fair and right that part-time elected officials in North Canton receive health insurance coverage beyond what their constituents struggle to provide for themselves in the private sector?

Is it fair and right that part-time elected officials not lead by example when the City asks its employees for concessions in union contracts?

Savings above and beyond those stated above could be realized if council members were allowed individual health insurance benefits from the city only if they had no health benefits through their spouse or their full-time employment. I suspect that some council members currently have secondary coverage or more through their spouse or their full-time employment.

In a February 12, 2008, Repository article titled, “N. Canton workers not receptive to wage freeze,” former Council President Daryl Revoldt remarks, “We are wrestling with a series of deficit issues for 2009, [Hoover once provided] ample and nearly predictable revenue, [but that has ended].”

The same article reported that council’s plan to deal with budget issues at that time were a wage freeze for city employees. My question to this council is why not lead by example and reduce the overly generous benefits it receives as part-time elected officials and show city employees that it will share in the pain that it is asking city employees to suffer?

The acknowledgment of the fiscal constraints facing North Canton by former Council President Revoldt occurred two and one half years ago and yet no one at city hall has focused on obvious savings that could be realized that were right before your eyes.

The last paragraph of the article reports, “Council also voted to spend $64,500 for a performance audit by the Ohio Auditor’s office. The move is supposed to help the city find ways to be more financially efficient.”

On January 6, 2009, the completed Performance Report was released to city officials. Recommendation 2.15 of the Performance Audit states: “The City should attempt to renegotiate provisions within its employee bargaining agreements that exceed peers or industry standards. These provisions are costly to the City, and successful renegotiations could result in significant savings.”

Shouldn’t this recommendation also apply to part-time elected officials?

I spoke to one councilmember regarding my planned remarks on this subject and he remarked that interest in serving on city council would decline if those particular benefits were curtailed.

To that I offer two examples in rebuttal. The first example is the North Canton Board of Education. Board of Education members receive a stipend of $125 per meeting they attend. There are NO other benefits. Has anyone ever seen a lack of candidates running for a seat on the Board of Education in North Canton? There is no personal gain to be had in serving and that has not diminished interest in serving on that board.

The second example is the part-time city council members of Hudson, Ohio. Hudson City Council members serve with a total compensation of $10.00 per month and NO other benefits. The Mayor of the City of Hudson receives $275.00 per month and NO other benefits.

This is true “Public Service” and after all, isn’t that what this is all about?

In summary, health insurance benefits for part-time city officials are not paid by an overwhelming majority of area communities. North Canton is struggling financially and fiscal prospects continue to be dim.

These savings can come without paying for another audit or a study at taxpayer expense. If each of you is serving for the right reasons and places the well-being of the community above your own self-interests, I ask that you implement these actions without delay to bring savings to the city you have sworn to serve.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne