Wednesday, June 25, 2014
After months of hand-wringing over the cost of city employee health insurance, the Georgetown City Council on June 19 approved a $36.5 million budget that requires the city rather than its employees to shoulder a $372,397 increase in health insurance premiums.
With little discussion, the council approved the budget on a 5-2 vote, with health insurance plan critics Councilwoman Carol Jayroe and Councilman Ed Kimbrough voting against it.
In a post-meeting interview, Jayroe said, “I absolutely voted against the budget because of the issues that I have with the health insurance premiums.” Kimbrough remarked, “I could not vote for the budget because of the health insurance premiums.”
Jayroe and Kimbrough had proposed in earlier budget meetings that city employees should pay the entire cost of the premium increase, but a majority of the council supported having the city absorb the 24 percent increase in premiums charged by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Council members said lower-paid city workers in particular would suffer financial hardship if they had to contribute a greater share of their paychecks to their health insurance.
Currently, the city pays about 80 percent of the health insurance premiums for employees, spouses and dependents.
That support will rise to 83 to 87 percent when the city absorbs the cost of the premium increase.
The $372,397 health insurance premium increase is being funded with $256,826 from the general fund; $38,524 from the electric fund; $21,402 from the water fund; $23,542 from the wastewater fund; $19,262 from the storm water fund; and $12,841 from the waste management fund.
At an earlier meeting, the council also rejected a move by Jayroe and Kimbrough to discontinue support for health insurance coverage of council members, their spouses and their dependents.
With the health insurance issue decided in prior meetings, the council was left with a decision to give final approval to the 2014-2015 budget, which contains no tax increase and continues current spending levels for most city departments.
“We've beaten all the dogs in this fight,” Mayor Jack Scoville told the council just before he asked them for a “miracle” in the form of a motion to adopt the budget. As the vote passed, an audible sigh of relief could be heard from the direction of City Finance Director Debra Bivens, who prepared the budget with input from city department heads.
The mayor's budget “miracle” was short-lived. Scoville a short time later asked for a motion to approve a fee proposal between the city and LS3P for consulting services on a redevelopment plan for the fire-ravaged 700 block of Front Street.
The mayor got a motion but then was met with fierce opposition from Councilman Rudolph Bradley. “Hold on mayor, I struggle with this, because I believe the property owners need to foot the bill with the city,” the councilman said. Bradley and Scoville debated back and forth about where the line in the sand should be drawn between how much or how little the city should be involved in the redevelopment phase.
City Administrator Chris Carter pointed out that the first phase of the LS3P project would be an “information-gathering” phase costing the city approximately $42,000. Bradley quickly withdrew his second to the motion for approval upon hearing that figure.
One at a time, each council member voiced some degree of skepticism over the proposal. Councilwoman Jayroe noted that “time was of the essence, as the two-year window of building back was closing in.”
Finally, after each council member voiced concerns, and at the urging of Bradley, the mayor agreed to postpone the discussion to the next planning meeting on June 26.
In another financial matter, the council on a 4-3 vote rejected a request by the board of directors of the financially troubled Winyah Auditorium for the city to take over its operations.
Mayor Scoville, Jayroe and Kimbrough supported a commitment by the city to assume administrative and financial responsibility for the auditorium, but that was opposed by Bradley, Councilwoman Peggy Wayne, and Councilmen Brendon Barber and Clarence Smalls.
City Administrator Chris Carter said it would cost the city about $50,000 to take over the Winyah Auditorium's operations.
Kimbrough said, “Let's protect this potential jewel for Georgetown.” But as Mayor Scoville implored council to save a piece of the city's history, Bradley said to the mayor, “Please, smooth talk, fast talk, but not this evening.”
Barber told the mayor, “You keep trying to put emotion into this.”