East Baton Rouge city-parish employees will pay an additional 3 percent in health insurance premiums next year after the Metro Council, in a 9-1 vote Wednesday, approved the increase.
The council appeared deadlocked on the issue with about half of the members agreeing that the premium increases should pass, and the other half wanting to look for ways to absorb the costs into the city-parish budget.
The council failed three times to garner enough votes to either approve the rates increases or to defer the item so the money needed to absorb the increases could be identified in the city-parish budget.
After about an hour of debate, John Carpenter, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, encouraged the council to approve the rate increase but said that if funding is freed up in 2012, it would be repaid to the employees through insurance holidays.
The council voted to approve the rate increase with Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards dissenting. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis abstained and Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison was absent.
Voting for the rate increase were council members Trae Welch, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, C. Denise Marcelle, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker, Joel Boé, Tara Wicker, Alison Gary and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois.
This year, city-parish employees paid about $123 for medical insurance for individual plans, meaning a 3 percent increase will increase the cost to about $127 a month. For family coverage, an employee paid about $500 monthly for the Health Maintenance Organization plan, meaning that next year the cost will be about $515 per month.
Reminding the council that employees have endured 30 percent increases in premiums and deductibles that have doubled throughout recent years, Helene O’Brien urged the council to defer the decision until the entire 2012 budget is presented by the administration so employees would have assurances that a good faith effort had been made.
“I know this is not an easy decision,” said O’Brien, the president of the Service Employees International Union. “But I ask you to wait on this decision until you have the full budget conversation, so you can make a more informed decision.”
Holden is expected to reveal his proposed budget to the council next week on Nov. 4.
But Holden’s staff said waiting to approve the rate increases pushes back the open enrollment period for the city-parish’s 4,000 employees, and puts them in jeopardy of not having a plan in place by the beginning of the year.
Gwen Hamilton, assistant chief administrative officer, has said 3,200 of the 4,000 city-parish 4,000 employees participate in the insurance program.
The 3 percent increase the city-parish employees face amounts to a total of $550,000, Carpenter has said.
Some council members suggested the money could be found in the budget.
The city-parish is paying $2.35 million in medical insurance premium increases for next year and consistently pays 70 percent of the premium costs for employees who pay 30 percent.
The city-parish is self-insured, meaning it is responsible for claims which are being projected at more than $58 million.
Carpenter said if additional funds are identified for the 2012 fiscal year, premium deductions could be suspended until employees are repaid.
Other items discussed during the meeting included:
DEPUTY POLICE CHIEFS: The council approved the creation of three deputy chief positions for the City Police who will be chosen by the chief, rather than through the regular promotion system based on years of service.
Chief Dewayne White said the positions will provide a clearer chain of command since there are captains supervising other captains currently.
The positions are expected to have salaries of $90,000 each, White said, but he has not identified a funding source.
In recent weeks, White proposed eliminating several captain positions to provide funds; however the Baton Rouge Police Union opposed the deletions, and White acquiesced.
The council approval allows the Police Department to go to the civil service board and ask for approval, and then create a test for applicants that will be ready to use once funding is identified. White said.
Carpenter suggested funding could be identified in the 2012 city-parish budget.
BRIDGES: The council also unanimously approved $900,000 for bridge repairs across the parish.
Holden agreed late last month to reallocate the funds from another stalled riverfront project in exchange for the council’s support of the stage canopy in Galvez Plaza.
The deal was struck between Holden and Walker behind the scenes of the Sept. 28 council meeting, which ended early for loss of a quorum.
Interim Public Works Director William Daniel said he has not decided where to apply the funds yet.