City employees gave Columbus Councilors an earful on the subject of sharing the impact of rising health insurance costs during a sometimes raucous work session Tuesday morning and afternoon.
Councilors were debating whether to pass along to city workers a share of a $2 million shortfall in money budgeted for health insurance. About 125 city employees attended the work session, and it was clear where they stood on that question.
Esther Radcliff, a legal assistant in the City Attorneys office, said she is tired of the government balancing its budget on the backs of city employees. She cited the city building parking garages, the City Services Center, the aquatic center and then having to maintain them.
You can only drain paychecks so much before we have to turn to food stamps and other assistance, Radcliff said.
Laura Murphy, a building inspector with Inspections and Codes pointed out that taking on so many projects in a bad economy was ill-advised and suggested some of them should have been postponed.
There is a limit to how much you can squeeze out of a paycheck. It has been almost seven years since weve had any kind of meaningful raise, Murphy said. We feel like the city would be well served to protect the ones who are carrying out the functions that are vital to the city.
Sheriffs Maj. Randy Robertson, also president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the citys chronic financial problems are symptoms of a much larger condition.
We all must accept the fact that how we run the business of local government must change, Robertson said. We must change how we spend the taxpayers dollars and how we prioritize what services we can afford to offer.
Kevin Wells, a supervisor in the sanitation department, said the lack of pay increases combined with the cost of benefits chipping away are becoming to much.
Youre milking us dry. Somewhere its got to stop, Wells said. We need to see something come our way. I remember when I first started working here, every Thanksgiving I got a turkey and every Christmas I got a ham. Do I get anything now? No, except more work.
Because Tuesdays meeting was a work session, no action was taken on the insurance matter, and few stated their positions. Councilor Pops Barnes was the only councilor who stated unequivocally that he is opposed to saddling the city employees with higher insurance premiums, or trimming the $2 million from the citys budget.
The heads of each department should not have to suffer and bear the cost, Barnes said. What Im hearing from the people is, the city needs to suck it up.
If council balks at sharing the cost with employees or cutting $2 million from department budgets, the only alternative is to dig deeper into the citys reserve funds, which are already close to the 60-day level that bond rating companies consider a benchmark for a good rating.
Going into the fund reserves isnt the end of the world. Its not doomsday, Barnes said. Well overcome that. Im voting no.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said maintaining the reserves is important not only for bond ratings, but as an emergency fund in case of a catastrophe.
City Finance Director Pam Hodge said its also critical to operating the government day to day, creating cash flow at times when spending outstrips revenue, such has the beginning of the fiscal year, when property tax revenues have not come in yet.
In the first three months, we collected $15.7 million, Hodges said. In those three months. expenditures are $38.6 million. So were spending in the first three months of the fiscal year, $23 million more than were bringing in. Thats the purpose of the fund balance, for cash flow.
In the marathon six-plus-hour work session, councilors also debated changing workers compensation carriers, stopping the payment of gap time and stopping the practice of including overtime and holiday pay when calculating pension benefits.