Frisco council benefits: Now you see "em, now you don’t
FRISCO – Keeping a close eye on Frisco town council members’ health benefits of late is like watching a sleight-of-hand show.
One moment, the council had the Cadillac of health plans; the next, no health insurance at all; and most recently, back to the Cadillac (which will soon turn into a Subaru).
Frisco’s new employee health plan took effect on Sept. 1, instituting co-pays and and other costs to town employees (including council members and the mayor), all of whom had received 100 percent coverage for many years prior to the change.
During budget discussions, Mayor Bob Moscatelli described the change as going from a Rolls Royce to a Cadillac.
Once the new plan was in place, town manager Alan Briley began to research the various policies that relate to council health benefits in order to draft a policy for elected officials.
Through his research, Briley found that there was nothing on the books that allowed salary or health benefits to council members, and it had been that way for several years.
It appeared that in 1996 the council had inadvertently eliminated provisions for council salary and benefits from the town charter.
On Tuesday night, the council members determined to undo the confusion, which led to a larger discussion about whether council should have health benefits at all.
Currently, more than $102,000 of the town’s budget is allocated to council health benefits, but Briley is seeking bids to reduce the cost through new coverage.
“I always feel sheepish when I say this,” Moscatelli said, “because I have Medicare and (military coverage): I don’t think this council should have benefits. I led the charge looking carefully at our employees benefits.
“I guess (giving the council coverage) looks illegal to me. IL-LEGAL,” Moscatelli said.
The town council is not permitted to enact changes in compensation that take effect for individual members before the end of their term. This prevents council members from making salary changes that benefit them directly.
Town attorney Pat Tisdale argued that, “Even though health care isn’t on the books, this council could make a finding that the intent was there to continue to provide health benefits because it was always included in the budget.
“Because the benefits exist today, you could continue them through the existing term,” Tisdale said.
Councilmembers Bernie Zurbriggen, Dede Dighero-Tuso and Rick Amico argued that health insurance is an important component of council compensation.
“I’m not wealthy,” said Zurbriggen, “and this is a very time-consuming job. If we restructure benefits so you have to be wealthy, or you have to be retired, you will change the personality of this town.
“I didn’t move here to be part of an elitist community. I think it’s important that this community embrace the working person. There are less expensive ways to have the same coverage, and we’re seeking those,” Zurbriggen said.
Dighero-Tuso agreed: “I don’t think it should be expected of any member to work for free. Bob has something to fall back on, and the rest of us don’t. Health insurance plans provided for council are a good thing, and I feel council members should just step up to the plate and pay their share.”
And that’s what they decided to do, in a vote of 4-3.
Between now and April, the council will continue on with the current level of coverage.
Come April, council members electing health insurance coverage will pay 20 percent of their premium costs or the percentage charged to town employees, whichever is greater.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at email@example.com.
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