But the city also has an obligation to manage its budget in a manner that’s fair to taxpayers and past and former city employees alike. Doing what’s best can put the two sides at odds.
This week, the City Council altered its stance on family insurance rates for city employees and retirees and decided to cap the premiums at the current rate unless pay hikes were issued to cover the increases — which they’re not. Complaints from retirees upset about looming $204 monthly increases for those on the family insurance plan were apparently heard loud and clear at City Hall.
That can be considered a commendable decision.
However, that choice is going to cost the city several thousand dollars each month to cover the extra cost. What’s more, City Manager Don Hoyt says the council never asked for an estimate on the extra costs before it approved the insurance-rate caps — which means the council decided to spend money without knowing how much money it had committed to dole out.
It’s yet another example of this council not being aware of the complexity of the decisions it makes.
We feel for the 300-plus city employees who did not receive a cost-of-living increase again this year, and for the 41 city retirees whose monthly insurance rates were about to go up. The lingering effects of the recession seem to spare few in their path. Finding painless answers to these dilemmas is challenging.
Nevertheless, Mayor Gene Robinson was right to cast the lone dissenting vote on this increased subsidizing of the city’s insurance plans. Our opinion is that the city should have had strong discussions about how it was going to pay for the additional costs — considering, mind you, that little fat remains in the city’s current budget.
Robinson, however, was spot-on correct to object to the passage of these caps in light of the fact that the council has not displayed the same urgency about solving the pension problem for the city’s police and fire departments.
That pension plan needs a strong correction. The recession robbed it of several million dollars, and none of the viable options are pain-free. The best option — buying into the Retirement Systems of Alabama — would drive up annual costs for the city and drive down the monthly retirement checks for police and fire department retirees.
That predicament must be fixed, too.
Within its means, the city should offer fair and equitable resolutions to its current and former employees — whether they work in city departments, protect its residents or put out its fires. But doing so without adequately researching the costs doesn’t make sense.