decision came after four hours of employee pleas that the city help
absorb a drastic hike in health benefits.
Negotiations are scheduled to continue today as a Friday deadline
to sign up for next year's health plan quickly approaches. Employee
unions have been mired in talks with the city since August.
The unions have been asking the city, which contributes anywhere
from $236 to $814 per employee, to help shoulder the burden of rising
health care costs. With a jump in insurance, city workers who choose
their own physician would have had to pay as much as $343 a month for
a plan that now costs $62.
Now the city will absorb some of the increase.
John Von Holle, president of the Municipal Employees Assn., said
that Monday's decision made it clear that the council has listened
and wants to help.
"The City Council definitely wants to try and help the employees,"
Von Holle said. "It was just good knowing that they cared enough to
do that. This shows that they're willing to give partially to us."
Von Holle said he is not yet sure how much this will cut costs for
Not all council members supported the proposal, however.
Councilwoman Connie Boardman argued that the money provided a cushion
that could have prevented five future layoffs.
"While I know [the money] will really help out with paying for
healthcare benefits, what's more disruptive to a family -- being laid
off or paying for health care benefits," Boardman asked.
The state board of equalization's decision to devalue the AES
power plant will cost the city more than $1 million in property tax
revenue. This, compounded with fears that the state government won't
backfill the $3 million Huntington Beach is losing in car tax funds
this year, makes layoffs a very real possibility.
"We're not getting our [vehicle license fee] backfill, which is
essential to the city's operation, so we simply can't afford to do
this," said City Councilman Dave Sullivan, who also opposed the
measure. "We're going to need that money."
Sullivan added that high medical costs are simply a reality. Other
workers in California have been paying into their insurance for
years, he said.
Council members who supported the measure said they wanted to do
whatever they could to help employees with the skyrocketing costs.
"Although I agree that we have a lot of tough decisions to make in
the next year, I can't ask the employees to take what is a pay cut
and not support them," said Mayor Pro Tem Jill Hardy. "They have
really supported us in taking on extra duties."
Huntington Beach employees can choose between a PPO or an HMO,
administered by Health Net. They are also advocating for more choices
in healthcare providers.
Von Holle called Monday's decision a step in the right direction.
"This shows that [the city] is willing to give partially to us,"
Von Holle said.
* JENNY MARDER covers City Hall. She can be reached at (714)
965-7173 or by e-mail at email@example.com.