More out-of-the-box ideas needed from Lebanon leaders “The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it.” — Trevor Baylis English Inventor
As Lebanon’s City Council continues to struggle with the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, a few out-of-the-box ideas have emerged that if the council is bold enough to embrace could make a difference in the future.
First off, I applaud Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton for raising questions at Wednesday night’s budget work session about amounts spent last year that he was unsure of at a budget meeting. Rarely in the past have I seen this happen.
I realize the budget is huge and it’s a pain to go through line by line (I’ve done it so I know of where I speak), but the fact that Burton has says a lot about the time he’s spent preparing for these budget sessions.
Second, I want to applaud Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino for again bringing up the idea of assigning different council members to monitor different areas of the city’s budget throughout the year.
This is an excellent idea, and I urge the council the implement this. If each councilor were responsible throughout the year of tracking a particular department’s and/or line-item expense, such as health insurance, come budget time, that person would essentially be considered the “expert” on what would be needed in the coming year.
Another idea, again proposed by Cesternino, was to move the start date for the city’s health insurance, one of, if not the largest, annual increase in the budget. Each year the city council struggles to put together the next fiscal year’s budget without all of the data needed, such as the increase in health insurance premiums.
Cesternino is correct when he says this practice needs to stop. The council needs all the information possible to put together a responsible budget.
In a past session, Cesternino broached the idea about making city employees pay more for health insurance than they currently do. While I appreciate Finance Commissioner Russell Lee’s stance to protect the city’s workers, what city employees currently pay as their portion of their premiums is way under what people in the public sector pay.
Lee referenced that many city employees make $10 to $12 an hour and that it would cost them more than $1 an hour of their pay to make up the anticipated 15 percent increase.
Well, the truth is many public sector employees make the same amount of money, and instead of paying $40 for individual coverage or $160 for family coverage, they must pay double or triple those amounts.
Which leads me to this question: Why should the taxpayers of Lebanon pay for a benefit for city employees that they themselves do not get from their employers?
If the 15 percent increase is realized and passed straight to the employees, we’re talking about a $86 a month increase in the employee’s portion for individual coverage, and a $237 a month increase for family coverage.
Is it unreasonable to ask city employees to pay $126 a month or $397 a month for health insurance? Maybe. But at least some portion of the increase should be passed along.
For example, if 25 percent of the increase were passed along, it would cost employees $21.50 more for individual coverage or an additional $59.25 for family coverage, bringing the totals to $61.50 or $219.25, respectively. If half of the increase were passed on, the employees’ portion for individual coverage would rise by $43 to $83 a month, while family coverage would go up $118.50 to $278.50 a month.
In addition, the budge still includes step raises and a $100 bonus on employees’ anniversary hire dates. It’s time for a reality check. Ask folks in the public sector when was the last time they got a raise. Answer would probably be three or more years. Then ask them if their portion of insurance premiums continued to rise each year. The answer will probably be yes.
This is the type of out-of-the-box thinking the city needs to be looking at when it comes to the budget.
I encourage each and every council member to continue to think outside the box when it comes to every aspect of city government. Lack of foresight and vision, along with a healthy dose of pessimism that things may not always
be as rosy as it was a decade ago, led our city to the financial situation it currently faces.
Lebanon cannot afford to continue to think inside the box. While such out of the box thinking may be painful, it’s price that has to be paid now because of the lack of foresight in the past.