.

Council Health Benefits Cost Over $56,000 Last Fiscal Year

Costs for 2010-11 dropped more than $10,000 from the prior fiscal year, with significant decreases to the health insurance expenses of Mayor Farid Javandel and Councilman Robert Lieber.

There was a marked decrease in the cost of health benefits for City Council members in the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to information requested by Albany Patch from the city.

Cutbacks by two council members saved the city nearly $20,000, though coverage costs for the other three rose by about $2,000 each.

Since three members of the council  to ignore a recommendation, by the city's Social & Economic Justice Commission, to maintain access to better health benefits—at no cost—than city staff, there has been a fair amount of community debate over how much the city pays for council members' health insurance.

(Mayor Farid Javandel and Councilwoman Peggy Thomsen voted against a motion by Councilman Robert Lieber to keep the better benefits.)

Though city staff and council members alike can choose from the Kaiser and Blue Shield plans, the city will only pay the cost of the Kaiser premium for staff members. If city staff want the more expensive Blue Shield plan, they must pay the difference. On the other hand, the city covers council members' entire premium, regardless of which plan they choose.

A reader reported Thursday that Thomsen actually pays the "staff difference" for her Blue Shield coverage; Thomsen confirmed this Thursday. 

The reason, she said, is that "Because I think council should be doing as all the employees do."

Documents released to Albany Patch in October 2010 showed that benefits for the five council members  during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

New documents show this number dropped to just over $56,500 last year. Here is the breakdown for each council member, according to the city.

  • : $9,656.52
  • : $8,150.46 
  • : $8,150.46
  • : $14,466.12
  • : $16,134.60

The overall decrease in costs can be attributed to changes in the benefit plans of Councilman Robert Lieber and Mayor Farid Javandel, the only two council members whose costs dropped from the previous year.

In October 2010,  from the family Blue Shield plan to "in-lieu payments," which he said would save the city more than $10,000 in 2011.

The city began offering council members these "in-lieu contributions" during the summer of 2010, to encourage council members to select health plans through employers or spouses.

Those contributions, which are equivalent to $500 to $600 a month, go into a retirement account.

Javandel recently said that, like Lieber, he opted to receive in-lieu payments instead of health coverage.

The cost of Lieber's and Javandel's benefits combined decreased by more than $18,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

When the issue of the council's benefits was brought up in September 2010, Lieber led a motion to, essentially, ignore a recommendation from a city advisory body that the council receive the same benefits as city staff. His motion passed 3-2, but the issue has not been forgotten by some residents.

In May 2011, Brian Parsley, a former member of the Social & Economic Justice Commission, that, of 12 California cities with populations less than 26,000, Albany is the only one to give its council better benefits than city staff.

Parsley's speech was in response to some council member's earlier argument that the compensation given to Albany's City Council was below average when compared to other cities.

In 2010, Councilwoman Joanne Wile , among which Albany ranks in the bottom 25 percent in terms of overall council compensation (which includes salaries, pensions, and other benefits).

At the time, Wile said "definitely we should revisit" the issue in 2011. When asked recently if the issue of council health benefits would be discussed again, she referenced the findings of the earlier 55-city survey.

"I'm not recommending any changes this year, either increases or decreases," she said.

Currently, there are no plans to discuss the issue at future council meetings.

Information regarding the cost of the council's health benefits in the 2011-12 fiscal year became available this month. Albany Patch will post updated information next week.

What do you think of the City Council's health benefits? Post your thoughts in the comments below. Click "Keep me posted" for an alert when we write about the city budget.

RELATED STORIES

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email at albany@patch.com.

Ira Sharenow July 12, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Do you have the AUSD board numbers?
doris July 12, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Why are Peggy Thomsen's and Joanne Wile's costs double or almost double that of the other members?
Michael Barnes July 12, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Doris, I am going guess this has something to do with age. But beyond that, I personally feel that any further speculation violates medical privacy issues, and it's really none of our business. There are a lot of other things I could say on the the broader issues raised by this story, but I'll hold my tongue for now.
Steven Lau July 12, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Not at this time. But it will likely be part of what we look into when examine employee compensation in the school district in future weeks.
Ross Stapleton-Gray July 12, 2012 at 07:40 PM
My guess is that it's related to other coverage, i.e., as Mr. Javendal and Mr. Lieber can get health care via their employers (Berkeley and Alta Bates), they've opted for the "in lieu" payments. If I recall correctly, expenses for them last year, when they weren't doing that, were the highest. Health care is just messed up in this country, and I'm baffled why there wasn't overwhelming support for single payer from small businesses, where you're either stuck paying high rates, or having to have an insured spouse to manage. Take the burden of finding a source for health care off the table (similar to how the "golden handcuff" of a pension used to force workers to remain with one employer for a career, and 401Ks made them more able to move) and I could see many, many more small businesses created on the basis of individuals' skills and dreams, and not hamstrung by their (justified) fears.
Joe O'Brien July 12, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Intersting
Jethro Mayham July 12, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Hope the little city of Albany doesn't end up bankrupt. They don't know how to bring investments but they sure know how to drive them away.
Emilie Raguso July 12, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I added this into today's story because I don't think we specified -- Mayor Farid Javandel and Councilwoman Peggy Thomsen had voted in 2010 against the motion by Councilman Robert Lieber to keep the better benefits. Also, a reader reported Thursday that Thomsen actually pays the "staff difference" for her Blue Shield coverage; Thomsen confirmed this Thursday. The reason, she said, is that "Because I think council should be doing as all the employees do."
Peggy McQuaid July 13, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Thank you Council Member Thomsen for paying the difference between your chosen plan and the allowed level for staff. Your integrity and leadership are appreciated.
Peggy McQuaid July 13, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Part of the problem here is that the same body who voted to cap employee health benefits is allowed to vote their own level of benefits as well as in lieu payments. If council is going to make policy on their compensation packages, it should be done in a manner that the sitting body does not benefit. In other words, the policy would take effect after their term is finished. Any salary increase needs to go to the voters as a Charter change- perhaps all compensation should be determined that way also.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »