By Perry Smith
Santa Clarita City Council members voted 4-0 to keep a two-tiered healthcare system for city employees, following a city staff recommendation.
The move followed more than an hour-long discussion. City staff gave a lengthy explanation behind its benefits packages and the ramifications for any changes, as City Councilman TimBen Boydston temporarily left the dais to appeal to fellow council members as a resident.
“My main issue with this is that all of the council people are equal representatives, and they should get equal pay,” he said. “If they don’t want to raise my pay, why can’t they lower their pay to match mine.”
Boydston felt he shouldn’t be alone in his benefits differential, because City Councilman Bob Kellar was re-elected at the same April election when Boydston garnered incumbent Laurie Ender’s seat.
Kellar said the decision had to be based on the law.
“We are a nation, a state, a county, a city of laws,” Kellar said. “We need to get down to what the law provides for, and get down to it and follow the law.”
City Council members approved the benefits change for the midyear 2010-11 budget, after a recommendation from city staff members who were asked to find cost-cutting measures.
Boydston said it was more than just the approximately $800-per-month discrepancy between the cash-in-lieu benefits he would be eligible for versus what the other City Council members could collect.
Under the change, all city employees hired after Jan. 1 2011, which is 32 employees according to city figures, are eligible for approximately $220 per month in a “cafeteria-style” plan that allows the employees to distribute the money toward whichever health care needs they desire. Employees hired before that date are eligible for the original amount, approximately $1,000 per month.
City attorney Joe Montes explained that wouldn’t be possible the way the rules are set up, unless the city decided to create a special category for employees who worked for the city left and came back, or if the city would have to adjust the pay benefits for all 32 employees the city has hired since the rules were changed. Boydston served on the City Council in 2007 on an interim basis, completing current Assemblyman Cameron Smyth’s term.
After he was questioned by City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, Montes explained that Boydston was eligible for the same benefits packages as the rest of the council members, it was the difference in benefits only takes effect if Boydston chooses to take a cash payout instead. The discrepancy between the two tiers of the plan comes out to about $9,600 per year.