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.
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