Our View: Keep ‘Councilcare’
At issue: The Steamboat Springs City Council has decided to put the question of whether members may keep their taxpayer-funded health coverage to voters
Our view: We commend council members for proactively addressing this issue and encourage city voters to approve continuation of the health care benefitEditorial Board • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher • Lisa Schlichtman, editor • Jim Patterson, evening editor • Tom Ross, reporter • Beth Melton, community representative • Bob Weiss, community representative Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com.
During a budget retreat late last year, Steamboat Springs City Council members were met with a ticklish dilemma when, during budget discussions, they were told by City Attorney Dan Foote that the taxpayer-funded insurance benefit members receive — and have received since 1992 — was never properly approved by voters, as stipulated in the city charter.
Now, a little more than seven months later, the sitting City Council is taking steps to rectify this situation.
On Nov. 7, city voters will be asked in the form of a ballot question to decide whether their city council members should continue to be offered this benefit. After the issue came to light in December, we expressed our belief that retroactively putting the question to voters was the only correct thing to do, and we’re gratified our city leaders have arrived at the same conclusion.
As to the question itself, we think council should be allowed to keep the benefit. We take this stance for several reasons.
First — and acknowledging the fact that occupying a seat on the council is, by definition, public service — we think they deserve it. Service, though the word implies a certain degree of altruism, often demands an even greater degree of sacrifice for those who undertake it, and in the case of city council service, it requires a hefty investment of time, commitment and attention, cutting into members’ personal and family time and, in some cases, causing members — some of whom are vital cogs in the local business community — to pass on potential work in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
It is true council members are paid a salary — $788.48 per month. That works out to a little less than $9,500 per year in return for council service. The health insurance perk — minus the contribution council members make to avail themselves of the benefit — breaks down to an additional $13,571 annually per council member. So, with the benefit, council members are compensated to the tune of about $23,000 annually for their service. Let’s face it: $23,000 per year isn’t a great deal of money anywhere, much less in Steamboat Springs, and nixing the benefit would effectively cut council compensation to less than $10,000 per year.
Second, serving on the city council is a tough job that entails night work, prep work, criticism, the sacrifice of family life and, sometimes, we’d imagine, being waylaid by constituents during a routine grocery shopping excursion or a family outing to the movies. If accepting — and, indeed, embracing — such demands comes with a $9,500 annual salary and no perks, we might soon see a city council peopled entirely by older retirees, and though the viewpoints and experience of such people are certainly important, we stand to lose the vital perspectives offered by the younger generation. We need to provide some incentive for the next generation of Steamboat leaders to step up, and we think the health insurance perk fits that bill nearly perfectly.
Finally, even though the perk was never properly approved by voters, participation in the city’s insurance plan was part of the package offered each of our current council members when they accepted the job. In our view, to renege on the benefit in the middle of several council members’ terms is simply be the wrong thing to do. Council members are not asking for anything new — only to keep a benefit they’ve received for 25 years now and a benefit the city has offered at little financial impact.
It’s strikes us as odd that this discrepancy went undetected for 25 years, but that’s water under the bridge. Now that it’s on the table, we commend the current council for stepping up and doing the right thing for the people they serve.
In return, the people should do the right thing for them.
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