Stand up for Vienna
It is budget time again and for the last several Vienna City Council meetings I have spoken publicly regarding an item that amounts to over 15 percent of the city’s budget. The City of Vienna pays $1,277,569 to provide health insurance to 81 employees and their families. By comparison, the City of Parkersburg provides health insurance for about $50,000 more than what Vienna pays to insure their employees and families. The problem is that Parkersburg insures more than three times the employees, 260 employees to Vienna’s 81 employees.
Until July 2018, the city continued to disregard a codified ordinance from 1997 that states, “The City and employees shall share in the cost of the premium.” Vienna’s employees who choose family plans paid $99.50 per month while employees on the single plan paid nothing. Council made the decision to raise the cost sharing by $30 per employee per month for the 2019 Budget. Health insurance costs have risen considerably for everyone in the last 20 years, yet the city has kept the cost of insurance low to city employees. So low in fact, that Vienna still pays nearly 96 percent of the employee’s health insurance premiums as well as contributing $2,750 of the $4,000 deductible. According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, this cost sharing is far more generous than other cities comparative in size to Vienna. In fact, this is even more generous than the state of West Virginia which has a mandated an 80/20 cost sharing rule for health insurance for state workers.
Why is Vienna not on par with other municipalities its size? Perhaps it is because the health insurance plans are chosen by a mostly unelected “insurance committee”. The insurance committee consists of department heads, the insurance broker and his employees, and the mayor, all of whom directly benefit from whatever decision is made. The council is never made aware of discussions regarding plans, cost sharing, deductibles, or any other factors that would affect the cost of the premiums. In fact, the council and public were not aware of the insurance committee’s eight-year existence until very recently.
It is time for Vienna City Council to stop allowing the insurance committee to supplant their authority. The city council, not the employees, are charged with approving the budget and should designate the “most cost efficient policy” per the ordinance adopted in 1997.