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City Council reaffirms tiered health benefits

Posted: October 24, 2012 9:01 a.m.
Updated: October 24, 2012 9:01 a.m.
 

The Santa Clarita City Council unanimously reaffirmed the city’s two-tier health benefit system for city employees and council members on Tuesday.

Councilman TimBen Boydston originally raised issue with the system at the council’s meeting on May 22. Because he was elected after Jan. 1, 2011, Boydston is entitled to only a portion of some of the health benefits afforded to other council members.

Boydston, who recused himself from council action on the matter but spoke as a private citizen, decried the discrepancy as “profoundly wrong” and an “injustice” and called on his fellow council members to lower their own benefits to match his own.

“You will save the taxpayers’ money, you will show that you believe that I am an equal representative,” Boydston said of his suggestion.

The city’s health benefits are the same for both employees and council members. The city has what it describes as a “cafeteria-style” plan, which provides a total of $1,016.58 a month to go toward purchasing insurance.

The city implemented a two-tier health benefit system on Jan. 1, 2011, which differentiated the amount of certain benefits an employee can receive if they elect not to enroll in a health insurance plan. Employees hired before that date have the option to receive the total amount of benefits as taxable cash. All employees hired on or after that date, including Boydston, can receive a maximum $214.62 a month.

Jennifer Curtis, the city’s human resource manager, said the two-tier system was done as a cost-saving measure. In her presentation to the council, Curtis also said that 34 employees, about 10 percent of the city’s workforce, receive the same tier-two benefits as Boydston.

The differences in payment outlined in the two-tier system also apply to employees who are rehired after a break in service with the city. If an employee who was originally hired by the city before Jan. 1, 2011, is fired or voluntarily leaves their position and is later rehired by the city, their benefits would be the same as someone hired after Jan. 1, 2011, regardless of when or how long they were employed beforehand.

The same principle applies to council members, with the day they are elected serving as their “employment” start date. Boydston was appointed to the council in November 2006 to replace outgoing Councilman Cameron Smyth. Boydston did not serve on the council again until his election in 2012.

City Attorney Joe Montes said the only way Boydston could receive the same benefits as other council members would be to create another classification of city employees. This, Montes said, would then open up those benefits to any employee who falls under that category. Mayor Frank Ferry said he thought Boydston was trying to set himself apart from other city employees.

“If I had gotten elected when TimBen did, I wouldn’t have even thought of asking the rules to be different for me,” Ferry said.

Councilwoman Marsha McLean said she sympathized with Boydston’s position, but that she did not think it was appropriate to draw a distinction between elected officials and hired personnel.

“We’re not separate from our employees and I don’t want to be separate from our employees,” McLean said.

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