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City, workers to pay more for health insurance
Hinesville City Council passes measure 3-0
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Hinesville city employees will have to pony up more money for their health insurance in the coming year. So will the city.

“What we’re recommending is that employees pay at little more out-of-pocket expenses, while keeping benefits up,” City Administrator Billy Edwards said in Thursday’s city council meeting before a 3-0 vote that adopted his recommendation.

Those yes votes were from Charles Frasier, Jason Floyd and Keith Jenkins. David Anderson and Kenneth Shaw were absent.

The recommendation increases premiums for the city and employees by about 19 percent, while also bumping up deductibles and co-pays.

After what Edwards and Mayor Jim Thomas called an unusually high number of sicknesses and injuries among the 139 insured employees (368 insured including spouses and children) during the past year, Consumers Life Insurance Company proposed a 39-percent increase in premiums.

That would have cost the city, which pays two-thirds of basic premiums, $265,000 more than the $645,000 it paid this year.

Total premiums from employees would have jumped $130,000, according to information Edwards presented at the meeting.
Under the adopted plan, the increase is $129,000 for the city and $55,498 for employees.

Edwards said the company reported a claim-to-premium ratio of just over 100 percent, while the industry normally tries to keep it at 80 percent at most.

So the mayor and administrator started negotiating with the company, tweaking deductibles and other costs to those seeking medical treatments. And those items will increase by various amounts to employees and their dependents.
But, Thomas said, “I think this is the best option.”

Jenkins asked if the vote could be put off to do more research.

Edwards, however, said open enrollment for employees is next week. He apologized for the rush but said he had learned of the company’s proposed rate increase the first of last week.

Frasier questioned if the city should look at other companies’ policies. Edwards and the mayor said they believed the recommendation was the best course.

And Floyd wondered if the company’s increase was typical and represented a trend. Edwards said he believed the number of claims in the past year had just been bad luck. He said theoretically premiums might drop if the claim-to-premium ratio went down to near the industry standard. But both he and Floyd joked about not expecting that to happen.

The vote also made minor changes in employees’ dental insurance with Guardian.

A related unanimous vote also affected employees’ retirement accounts. Edwards said the city does not contribute to what is called workers’ “deferred compensation.” He characterized the changes as minor and required by the IRS.

In other business, the council:

• Approved the preliminary plat for Independence Settlement, a 40-lot subdivision in Independence Place on West 15th Street. Developer Clay Sikes attended the meeting, but no questions were asked.

Planning specialist Gabriele Hartage said the Liberty Consolidate Planning Commission had recommended approval of the plat with conditions and that most of the conditions had been met.

A sagging sewer line into the area still needs to be repaired, she said.

• Told Anita Rozen that occupant capacities for a nightclub she proposes to open in the old Colleseum building needed to be adjusted because of the city’s parking restrictions and the number of slots available for the club. Thomas said city inspectors would work with her to explain what is available.

• Heard the mayor report that the federal Housing and Urban Development had taken possession of low-income housing units, including Tree Top Properties. He said council should consider whether the city could take possession of the property to increase housing for the poor and homeless.

• Postponed allocating shares of HUD grants to local charities. Assistant City Administrator Kenneth Howard, who heads the city’s Community Development Department, said some of the money would go to several charities that council members and the mayor are involved with.

They would have to abstain from voting on the allocation. Howard proposed delaying the vote since two council members were absent.

• Heard Duane Young, owner of Liberty Towing, say he believed the city should crack down on unqualified tow-truck drivers and extend background checks to all those drivers.

• Accepted the resignation of Liston Singeltary from the Hinesville Housing Authority. He has accepted a temporary overseas job. Council will look for replacements over the next month.

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