After several weeks of debates characterized by numerous meetings, the Indianola Board of Aldermen have reached a majority opinion on who should pay for the increase in the upcoming year's health insurance premiums and how much.
In a Thursday night special-call session, the city leaders voted 3-2 to accept a proposal originally presented by Alderman Darrell Simpson at their June 22 meeting. Piggybacking off of a suggestion by Mayor Steve Rosenthal, at that meeting, Simpson suggested doubling one of the options presented by the mayor, which would result in a $101,760 contribution from the employees toward a $213,444 rise in costs over the next year.
Rosenthal's original plan would have generated $50,880, but citing a need for a greater investment from the employees, Simpson suggested doubling it.
He emphasized on Thursday night that it's just a $15 a week outlay for the lowest paid employee.
"I don't think $15 a week is too much for anybody to pay for insurance," Simpson said.
The city employees' share of the insurance contribution is broken down into five groups based on their hourly pay rate. With the adopted plan, persons making $10 an hour or less, who make up 36 percent of the city's workforce, would contribute $60 per month. The next highest group, which accounts for approximately 34 percent of the city workers, would contribute $80 per month. And workers in the top tier would pay $120 per month towards their insurance cost.
Prior to Thursday night's decisions, the lower 36% were not contributing anything toward the premium costs and only $28,800 was being generated by the other four pay categories.
Those employees in the higher pay brackets had previously expressed their discontent with everyone not being required to contribute to the insurance premium costs and called for a fair distribution, since all receive the benefits.
Alderman Ruben Woods was one who expressed his desire not to follow Simpson’s plan and suggested that the amount of the increase be divided three ways with the employees paying one-third, one-third coming out of the city's budget and the remaining portion through an increase in tax millage.
Fratesi said, "I asked at the last meeting, tell me how to pay for it and just saying we're going to take it out of the budget that's not telling me. Tell me what you're going to cut out of the budget."
Woods then referred to his comments from the previous meeting to put a freeze on hiring and cut all unnecessary spending.
"We've got positions out there that have been out there for two or three years that have never been filled," Woods said.
However, Rosenthal refuted that claim.
Rosenthal asserted that the city was already at a budget deficit of $200,000 and said not hiring or firing several employees was not going to fix that and neither would not buying a few pieces of equipment.
"And now we're getting another $200,000 deficit," he said, "We won't be able to generate enough taxes to raise $400,000."
Woods asked about last year's shortfall and Rosenthal said it was around $100,000, but they had budgeted for a $200,000 deficit.
Fratesi also mentioned that the $75,000 increase in the police salary was also not budgeted. He added that there was no way of knowing if Rosenthal's forecasted deficit was right because they did not have financials.
“Without a financial, I don't know,” he said.
Mentioning how the city was already operating at a deficit and was expecting to continue at a deficit based on the projected reduction in sales tax revenue, Fratesi again asked,"Where is all the money coming from?” Addressing Rosenthal, he said. “I will come up to your office tomorrow and I want you to show me the financials that will back up what you just said."
There was also some confusion about who made the original motion when Simpson declared that he had made the motion at the onset of the meeting and Fratesi declared that he had also made a motion to go with Simpson's suggestion; however, both agreed that neither motion had been acted upon.
When the vote was taken, Simpson, Fratesi and Alderman Sam Brock voted yes, Elder voted no and Woods' connection dropped and it was only assumed that his vote was no, since he had voiced opposition earlier. "With that, the motion carries 3-2 or 3-1 depending on what Ruben votes," Rosenthal said.
Afterwards, Fratesi noted that it was not a true $101,000 contribution from the employees since a portion of the city workers were already contributing $28,000 from last year. “It is only an additional 70 something thousand dollars, I think,” he said.
Previously, about 64 of the employees were playing the $28,000, whereas 36 were not contributing anything. Under the new plan each employee will contribute toward reducing the amount although not equally.