Although the Mobile City Council agreed to delay by two weeks a vote on it, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget was still a hot topic during Tuesday’s meeting.
The council heard from three retired employees who were upset that the proposed budget would cut out healthcare coverage for retirees eligible for Medicare. Each asked the council to reconsider the proposal before voting on it.
Dennis Green called the proposal to cut off benefits to retirees eligible for Medicare a “slap in the face,” adding that a 2.5 percent cost of living raise, which will go into effect in October, is not enough when an increase in healthcare costs is factored in.
Green said he got a 2.5 percent raise under the Mike Dow administration, but an increase in healthcare costs was also factored in. The healthcare increase, along with a jump from one tax bracket to another, ended up costing Green $10 per paycheck, he reported.
He said current police officers making the minimum at the department now face a similar problem. Green estimated with a 2.5 percent raise and the increase to healthcare coverage, current officers would make about $5 per check more than they did before the raise.
“The city’s employees are vital,” Green told the council. “No offense intended, but others can step in for you. Who’s going to work the streets?”
Stimpson’s budget does cut out coverage for retired employees eligible for Medicare; however, the city will offer them a one-on-one visit with a counselor to find a suitable supplemental coverage plan and will provide them with $175 per month toward the premiums for that plan.
Non-Medicare retirees would go from paying $54 a month to $103 a month for single coverage and from $140 a month to $210 a month for family coverage, according to a fact sheet distributed from Stimpson’s office.
The monthly premiums for current employees would increase from $54 to $69 a month for single coverage and $140 to $178 a month for family coverage. The 20 percent cost sharing would adjust automatically. New employees would pay 40 percent into the cost-sharing plan. The city would pay the first year’s premiums for employees making $40,000 or less.
Also, in addition to the 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, employees would be eligible for an additional 2.5 percent merit raise that would go into effect in April.
Queen Daniels, a former city employee of 45 years, also told the council to think about expanding the healthcare coverage in the budget before voting on it.
Daniels said she too remembers getting a raise at the same time healthcare costs increased for employees. She told the council she ended up making $15 less per check than before. She also told councilors that Medicare didn’t provide good coverage and would require the retirees to get supplemental coverage.
“I ask you to really think about increasing, or not giving retirees health coverage,” Daniels said.
Later in its regularly scheduled meeting, the council held over an ordinance that would extend the sunset provision for a 1-cent sales tax in the city for two months, as was proposed in Stimpson’s budget.
A discussion on the tax ensued during a pre-council conference that morning, with some councilors asking to possibly extend it for as many as three years to finance capital improvements throughout the city.
Councilmen C.J. Small and Fred Richardson each said they would support an extension of the tax, but Richardson added that he wanted it to be permanent, or completely taken away. Later in the meeting, he said he hadn’t received any complaints from constituents on the issue.
“No one is asking us to stop it,” Richardson said. “Everybody (in Mobile County) is at 10 percent, except Semmes. Leave the penny alone.”
Manzie said he too would support the extension of the tax for two months, but added that the area has among the lowest property taxes in the state and other funding sources may need to be discussed in the future.
“We’re going to need these resources beyond September or October of next year,” Manzie said. “No one wants to pay more, but everyone wants the services.”
Councilman John Williams argued that the amendment would just change the date that the tax would roll off and doesn’t address how the money is dedicated, or earmarked. Williams said the council hasn’t lived up to that dedication to this point.
The original ordinance split the $30 million in revenue from the tax into four different funds, Council Attorney Jim Rossler said. A quarter of the revenue went into capital improvements, a quarter went into the general fund, a quarter went into public safety capital and a quarter went into economic development.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said a two-month extension of the tax would make up about $5 million, which he indicated could be used for new police and fire vehicles in his proposed budget.
In other business, the council approved a contract amendment with Southern Earth Sciences for Airbus Way and AeroSpace Drive, both in the Brookley Aeroplex, at a cost of $18,268.75.
The council authorized a contract with Thomas Industries for ballroom doors at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center for $21,600. The council also authorized a contract with S&O Enterprises for a camera replacement at the Mobile Museum of Art in the amount of $14,800.
Next week’s council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. and will precede a public hearing on the proposed budget beginning at 5:30 p.m. Speakers must reserve a spot in advance.