In 2010, University Place City Council members facing recession-related budget challenges voted to eliminate their city-provided health insurance, coverage that was so generous it exceeded what full-time city employees received.
It was the right thing to do at the time. And nothing has changed that argues convincingly for reinstating council members’ coverage.
The city’s budget is still stressed to the point that a $600,000 gap is projected in the upcoming budget cycle, and the council says the city won’t pay for youth and senior recreation programs in 2017. Reinstating health insurance for council members could cost an estimated $100,000, depending on how many members signed up and whether the coverage extended to family members.
Do council members really want to send the message that providing health insurance for themselves is a higher priority than recreation programs for kids and the elderly?
Councilman Chris Nye said he believes the Affordable Care Act requires the city to provide coverage to members of the City Council. But the city’s attorney disagrees, saying that elected officials are not considered employees.
The only requirement for City Council members is to attend two meetings a month, although most put in more work than that. The mayor and deputy mayor, for instance, perform additional duties (for which they are paid more than other council members).
The city’s attorney isn’t the only one who apparently doesn’t see a requirement for cities to provide health insurance. The Association of Washington Cities – which offers coverage through its trust – isn’t experiencing a surge of cities in this state rushing to provide health insurance for their council members since the ACA went into effect. In fact, it’s seeing no increase in the number of inquiries or cities offering health insurance.
Of 281 cities in Washington, only 47 reported in 2011 that they offer health insurance benefits for elected officials. In Pierce County, cities that reported offering it are Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor and Steilacoom.
Most mid-size cities in the state don’t provide health insurance for council members, who are considered part-timers. Council members aren’t insured by the city in neighboring Lakewood, with a population of 58,163 in the 2010 census compared to University Place’s 31,144.
There’s nothing wrong with cities offering health insurance coverage if they’re in a position financially to do so. But in smaller cities, serving on councils is considered a civic responsibility, not a job. University Place has other priorities for which $100,000 or so would be useful.