Voters likely to decide whether Steamboat Springs City Council should keep health insurance
Steamboat Springs — Voters in Steamboat Springs will likely decide next year whether their elected officials should continue receiving taxpayer-funded health insurance as a benefit.
City Attorney Dan Foote said he believes the council has had the option of getting health insurance coverage from the city since 1992.
But voters have never approved the benefit, as required in the city’s charter.
The charter requires that any changes to the council’s salary or benefits must be endorsed by a majority of the electorate.
Current city officials couldn’t say why the insurance benefit was added without the consent of voters.
The city has budgeted to spend up to $95,000 for the council’s health insurance benefits next year.
Five of the seven council members currently utilize the insurance.
The question of whether the council should ask voters whether to continue the health insurance benefit came up during a budget retreat.
Foote advised the council to seek voter approval for the perk.
Several current council members feel the city would have a harder time getting citizens to run for office without that benefit or some sort of a salary increase.
Councilwoman Heather Sloop also said that, without the insurance benefit, the council may only see retirees or other community members who already have health insurance run for office.
“If we put this to the voters, there has to be some sort of if you do not like City Council getting health care, then maybe council needs to get paid more, or whatever, because I don’t want this to become nobody is gonna want to become a city council member because (the pay) is $500 a month,” Sloop said. “And yeah, you’re a civil servant here, but $500 a month isn’t gonna help a family here that is barely making it work here. I don’t want to negate only city council leaders to be retirees. You need to have young people who have families.”
The last time council’s compensation was raised was in 2014, when the salary for regular council members was bumped from $620.80 per month to $788.48 per month.
The president pro-tem’s pay was raised from $724 per month to $920.20 per month, and the president’s pay was raised from $826.40 per month to $1,050.09 per month.
Prior to that year, the council had been rejecting annual pay raises in deference to city furloughs and employee pay cuts during the Great Recession.
But a slim majority of the council in 2013 was concerned about retaining that tradition, because voters, in 2001, approved a council compensation plan that called for salaries to increase annually by the percentage increase of the consumer price index in Denver and Boulder.
“I’m not looking for a pay raise, I just have a fundamental issue that the seven of us here have voted for the last four years to basically go against what was approved by our voters,” then Council President Bart Kounovsky said.
The council approved the reinstatement of the pay raises in a 4-3 vote that one councilwoman labeled a “lose-lose” situation.
Today, some council members appeared to acknowledge there might be some resistance to the idea of the council receiving more benefits.
They specifically referred to Steamboat resident Ed Miklus, a former superintendent in New Jersey who was strongly critical of the council’s initial decision in the spring to call dibs on free concert tickets and VIP lanyards as perks.
“I guarantee you, Ed is going to say ‘school board doesn’t get anything,’ and I hear ya Ed, wherever you are,” Sloop said during the discussion about council health insurance.
Councilwoman Robin Crossan, who served for several years on the Steamboat Springs School Board, said serving on council is more of a time commitment.
Sloop also said the council is more in the limelight and under closer scrutiny than school board members.
City Manager Gary Suiter noted council members are likely making below the minimum wage based on the number of hours they put into the job.
He said the health insurance benefit entices more citizens to run for office.
“It’s attractive to a lot of potential candidates to give them some other reason to run other than the primary reason, which is to serve the community,” Suiter said.
There was a consensus on council the health insurance benefit should go to voters next year.
Suiter said the ballot question could be ready for a vote in May or June.
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