Tacoma City Council OKs cheaper health benefits for councilmembers

Tacoma City Council voted yesterday to approve a plan to extend health benefits and premiums enjoyed by full- and part-time city employees to councilmembers.
The action followed recommendations of a citizens’ committee that looked into whether city councilmembers, who earn $36,026 per year and are categorized as part-time employees, should be eligible for health benefits in a manner comparable to other city employees. Councilmembers could enroll in the city’s health plan, but the price was steep: $1,030 per month.
The citizens’ committee, which included former councilmember Jonathan Phillips, Tacoma resident and Human Resources adviser Sharon Winters, and citizen volunteer John Pellessier, recommended councilmembers should be qualified as 90 percent of a full-time equivalent employee, and allowed to opt into the city’s health plan at a lower premium that is comparable to other part-time city employees. Under one plan, councilmembers would pay $189.40 for health benefits (the cost is $96 for a full-time city employee).
Yesterday’s vote approved that recommendation.
The issue was first presented last year by departing councilmember Bill Evans. On Jan. 8, City Council adopted a resolution that created the citizen’s committee. That committee held four public meetings in February, and one in March, before presenting its recommendation.
During yesterday’s regularly scheduled noon city council study session, committee member Phillips presented the groups findings and recommendations in a nine-page report.
“There is no standard,” said Phillips, who examined pay structure and benefits for city and county councilmembers in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Colorado. “It’s all over the map in terms of payment and benefits.” For example, councilmembers in Spokane, Wash., a comparable-sized city as Tacoma, earn $18,000 per year, and receive health benefits. By contrast, councilmembers in Salem, Ore., receive no pay or benefits.
The committee also recommended City Manager Eric Anderson should undertake to establish an employment classification for ‘elected official,’ and the City should review councilmembers’ total pay and benefits plan every four years.
Currently, councilmembers attend 46 council meetings per year. They are also assigned to as many as three council committees, and may represent the city on regional councils, boards, and committees.