2017-09-28 / Front Page

New insurance plan for employees could save the city almost $250,000

Washington City Council members approved a change in its health insurance plan for employees which promises to save the city almost $250,000 in costs for the coming insurance year which will begin on November 1.

Speaking on behalf of MSI Benefits, the firm that brokers insurance for the city, John Leggett explained that after Humana announced a substantial increase amounting to about $37,000 last year, the carrier was changed to Aetna for this year. Aetna’s proposed renewal for the coming year was 22.5 percent, representing a net cost increase of some $120,000, he said.

“Our firm handles all employee benefits – health, dental, life, disability – for the city,” Leggett said. “And actually, I’m here to bring good news. It’s nice to be able to say that because so often it’s not good news – but this is great news.”

Leggett reported that new bids were requested and “Blue Cross came back with a crazy, ridiculous competitive quote $113,000 below what the city is currently paying.” What is more is that further improvements to the base plan increase the city’s savings even more by eliminating the need for certain administrative costs. The combination brings the net cost to about $126,000 below what the city is currently paying.

“Our recommendation is to move to Blue Cross with these plans,” Leggett said. “That will improve the overall benefits for the employees, lower the city’s costs, and lower the employee deductions for those who do have a deduction.

“Which is almost $250,000 below where Aetna was going,” he pointed out.

Council members in attendance at the rescheduled meeting voted unanimously to go with the Blue Cross plan.

The meeting was held last Wednesday, September 20, at 2 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall because the regularly scheduled September meeting on September 11 was cancelled due to the threat of Hurricane Irma. In attendance at last week’s meeting were councilmen Mike Scarborough, PeeWee Armour, and Travis Armour, along with Mayor Ames Barnett, City Administrator Sherri Bailey, City Clerk Debbie Lamar, and a handful of visitors. Other councilmen did not attend.

Concerning the damages around the city caused by Hurricane Irma, Barnett reported that “things are getting cleaned up and nobody got hurt.” He also praised the hard work of those who worked and continue to work cleaning up.

The council also agreed to contract with SDS Consultants to “bring knowledge, experience, and success to prepare … for the best possible results in future service delivery strategy negotiations.”

“These are experts at what they do,” City Attorney Barry Fleming explained. “Other cities have been satisfied with their work,” he added.

SDS will work on the city’s behalf to evaluate the services provided by the county and the City of Washington, and define the county services that are primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated areas. For the current year of audit, SDS will prepare a report identifying any county property tax dollars derived from city residents that are being used to fund services primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated areas. That reports will include a recommended property tax rollback to resolve inequities, if any.

Cost of the consulting service is expected to be $15-20,000 plus travel and other incidental costs.

In other business:

Council approved a lease arrangement with Kibby Schipper for property at 211 Court Street for $500 per month to the Washington Fire Department for its use during construction of the new fire station.

Because a training trip to Retail Academy involves out-of-state travel to Alabama, councilmen approved the expenditure of about $1,500 for four individuals. Main Street Director Elizabeth Elliott explained that Retail Academy is an economic development consulting firm which will provide market analy­ses, develop a real estate analysis, identify up to 15 companies and industries suitable to locate in the City of Washington, and make the initial contact with those entities. The consulting fee is $10,000 which is already a part of the Main Street budget.

Elliott indicated that the study will involve the entire city, not just the downtown area. The training is conducted so that those attending can learn how to interpret and use the information collected.

Council agreed to provide a $1,000 loan to the Washington Housing Authority for its participation in litigation to be filed against HUD. The proposed lawsuit has the potential or expected return which could be almost $117,000.

Bailey reported that a loan of up to $400,000 for badly needed repairs on manholes had been approved by GEFA. However, a large disparity (about $100,000) between bid amounts for the project brought about concern and discussion among council members. “This is a $100,000 question and I think we need to ask it,” Barnett said. A decision on the matter was delayed until more information is obtained.

Requests for use of The Square on Saturday, October 14, by First Baptist Church for its Jason Chapman 5K Run (7-10 a.m.), and for the Nancy Long Cancer Benefit (10-11:30 a.m.) were both approved.

An updated policy for closing, employment, and notifications in the event of inclement weather was approved.

The Council voted to keep the property tax millage rate the same for another year.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Barnett recommended that the city develop a debris management plan in advance of the next crisis, rather than after the fact. Such a plan would have contractors already in place to handle various cleanup needs and would also specify a place to put debris if needed. City Attorney Barry Fleming said that one of his clients had suffered tens of thousands of dollars in EPD fines because they did not have an appropriately approved location.

The next regular meeting of the Washington City Council will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, October 9, at The Pope Center.

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