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Oak Harbor mayor takes aim at council's health care benefits

Oak Harbor Mayor donates 20 percent of his salary back to the city. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Mayor donates 20 percent of his salary back to the city.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley wants to eliminate health insurance for himself and council members.

Dudley told the Whidbey News-Times that he also wants to cut salaries for the mayor position and city council members. That would require a salary commission.

Dudley argues that the positions are all part-time and that serving the community shouldn’t be about getting paid.

He added out that the council claims the city is in a financial emergency.

Each payday, Dudley writes a check to the City of Oak Harbor, giving back 20 percent of his salary.

The mayor earns about $51,000 per year.

Dudley’s proposal will likely further estrange him from council members, who’ve been critical of many of the mayor’s decisions.

The proposal to cut elected officials’ pay and benefits comes amid discussions about possibly downgrading the city’s health insurance coverage.

Dudley proposes moving to a cheaper plan, and that is upsetting employees.

Councilman Rick Almberg, who’s on the health care plan, said that council members only make $7,200 a year.

“I would be happy to give up mine when he gives up his entire salary,” he said. “We work a lot harder than he does.”

Councilwoman Tara Hizon, who is also on the city’s health plan, echoed Almberg’s sentiments. She said the mayor wasted huge amounts of money by firing a series of people in administrative positions, which meant paying huge severance packages.

The separation costs for the employee terminations are estimated at about $500,000.

“The mayor spent us into this big hole and now he’s expecting everyone else to pay for it,” she said.

Hizon said the insurance is “life saving” for her.

Dudley, however, argues that neither the mayor nor council members should receive medical benefits since they are part-time employees. No other part-time employees in the city receive medical insurance, he said.

“My wife is going to be pissed, but it’s the right thing to do,” Dudley said.

He said his wife loves the insurance because it covers “absolutely everything.”

Almberg and Hizon said they work full-time hours as council members, though the positions are officially part-time.

Dudley describes the city’s health insurance, provided by the Association of Washington Cities, as a “Cadillac plan.” It’s the best plan available through the association.

The city picks up the entire tab for the employees’ premiums, plus a large percentage of the premiums for the employees’ spouses and children.

The city will spend $1.9 million on health-care premiums this year; that amount increases by 11 percent each year, according to the mayor.

Dudley said he is looking for ways to cut the city’s costs, whether it means moving to a less expensive plan or requiring employees to pay a portion of the premiums.

The city of Oak Harbor’s insurance costs are slightly above the average for cities in the state with populations between 15,000 and 29,999, according to statistics from the Association of Washington Cities.

Oak Harbor paid $618 in health-care premiums each month, on average, for each employee during 2012. Average cost among the 26 cities of similar size is $579.

For an employee with a family of four, the city paid $1,503 in premiums, which was exactly average.

Deanna Krell, of the Association of Washington Cities, said she gathered the statistics by asking cities for premium information for the largest group of employees, which may be a unionized or non-unionized body.

The plans chosen by the smaller employees groups could have different amounts.

Hizon said the employees save the city about $60,000 a year in health-care costs through the volunteer efforts of a “Wellness Committee.”

“It’s really incredible insurance and the employees have, understandably, grown very attached to it,” she said.

Dudley said he thinks it’s unusual for council members to receive health-care benefits; he’s not aware of any other city that pays for council member’s health insurance, let alone the entire premium.

The value of the health insurance more than doubles what the city spends on each council member.

Association of Washington Cities reports that 38 of 283 cities in the state reported paying for part or all the health insurance benefits for an elected official or officials. The number includes all the cities that only offer insurance to mayors; the association didn’t have numbers on how many cities fund council members’ insurance.

Dudley said he will propose that the city convene a salary commission to consider changes in salaries for elected officials. He said he hopes that the salaries will be decreased.

While increases in compensation can go into effect immediately, decreases may not go into effect until the subsequent terms of office begin, according to Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

Oak Harbor’s mayor earns more than twice the average for mayors in cities with populations between 15,000 and 29,999, according to statistics from the Association of Washington Cities.

During 2011, Oak Harbor’s mayor earned $4,159 a month. The average was $1,920 a month, not including the three cities that pay according to the number of meetings attended.

In contrast, Oak Harbor council members earn slightly above average. Council members earned $596 a month in 2011. The average was about $556.

Hizon said she’s met a lot of council members from other states at conventions and they invariably make a lot more money.

“They’re always horrified that I make little more than $500 a month,” she said, referring to the after-taxes, take-home pay.

 

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