Insurance conundrum

Chrisman’s health insurance decision commits city to pay almost $42,000 first year

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CHRISMAN – A reluctant vote by the Chrisman City Council to provide group health insurance to city employees almost did not happen at the Monday, Feb. 4, city meeting.

Mayor Dan Owen asked the council members to make a motion for one of the options on the table and after some hesitancy Tim Owen did so. There was a period of silence until Jerry Hoult finally seconded the motion.

This issue arose at the Jan. 21 city meeting when it was announced the private health insurance policies held by the employees had substantial premium increases and for one employee, the new monthly premium was more than his take home pay. At that time, city clerk Deena Burns was instructed to work with insurance agent Lucas Knight to present the council with a spreadsheet showing options for each employee with the city paying various increments between 50 and 100 percent of the premium.

Past practice was for the city to reimburse employees 50 percent, up to a maximum of $6,000, for health insurance.

Knight advised the council at the Jan. 21 meeting that switching to an employer offered group plan legally obligated the city to a minimum 50 percent of the expense without a cap.

At the Feb. 4 meeting the council members were trying to find an option that seemed affordable to both the city and the employees. The struggle for an answer prompted Knight to say, “Health insurance is getting to the point where people cannot afford it. Doing this will be a huge benefit to the employees.”

Commissioner Rick Jenness had a problem getting over the price hurdle. He said for the city this was not only an unplanned expense but also a significant and unscheduled pay raise for employees.

“Insurance is not cheap. I don’t care where it comes from,” said Mayor Owen.

More was involved in the decision than just the monthly premium. Other factors considered were the amount of the deductible, required-out-of pocket expense and the percentage employees had to contribute to the premium.

“I don’t want to do the $1,000 deductible if they are not going to use it (medical insurance) because it is too expensive,” said Commissioner Rodney Wolfe. “I would prefer the $500 deductible.”

Mayor Owen expressed a personal belief the employees deserve health insurance and the minimum amount the city should contribute is 80 percent of the cost.

One of the employees was asked if he could afford to pay 20 percent of the premium. He said given the expense of the policy and family obligations even 20 percent is a major expense based on what he earns.

Jenness suggested delaying the decision until the Feb. 18 meeting, but the others were unwilling to do so, noting they have known for two weeks this issue was coming before them.

“They need insurance,” said Wolfe. “They are rolling the dice now.”

Finally, Tim Owen moved to enroll the employees in the Health Alliance group plan offering a $500 deductible and the city pay 90 percent of the premium. The measure passed unanimously although each commissioner hesitated before voting yes. Chrisman now has a monthly obligation of $3,492 for employee health insurance

After the vote, Jenness said, “I don’t have a problem giving the employees health insurance. I have a problem paying it through city funds.”

The council passed a leash law making dog owners responsible for keeping their pets under control at all times. Owners are not required to fence their properties but any time the dog leaves the property it must either be on a leash or in a cage.

Also approved was a new ordinance establishing guidelines for keeping fowl within city limits. Per the new ordinance, fowl are defined as chicken, hen, rooster, pigeon, duck, goose, guinea, turkey, peacock or waterfowl.

Residents wanting to raise fowl must obtain an annual permit which gives city officials authority to enter the property as needed to conduct inspections making sure the birds are maintained in compliance with the ordinance.

No more than six birds are allowed at any residence and in addition to a suitable coop, owners must have an appropriate enclosure that confines the birds to the property.

Other stipulations are to keep the chicken yard clean and sanitary to avoid odors, with food stored in a manner that does not attract rats or other vermin. Birds that are noisy and disturb the peace of neighbors will be considered a nuisance.

During his report as water commissioner, Wolfe said the city water is again testing over the acceptable level for arsenic. He recently traveled to Springfield to meet with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials about the problem.

The EPA officials said to introduce the chlorine before the water goes into the filters rather than waiting after filtration. The decision to do this was made knowing the last time this approach was tried the chemical reaction allowed the suspended iron particles to pass through the filters causing rusty colored water entering homes and leaving behind yellowish stains in sinks, tubs and clothing.

Chrisman and Paris have agreed in principle to build a pipeline along state Route 1 for Paris to sell water to Chrisman. The details remain to be worked out and construction has not yet started.

Water from Paris lacks the arsenic and iron problems confronted by Chrisman.

Wolfe took a moment to address information being spread through Chrisman that Paris water is much harder than the Chrisman water supply and this is a bad deal for Chrisman residents.

Wolfe contacted several neighboring communities and learned all have about the same level of hardness as both Chrisman and Paris.

“It’s not true what is being said,” Wolfe said. “It’s not fact based.”