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City Council Puts Health Care Policy Change On The Record

With a 4-0 vote, Santa Clarita City Council members Tuesday approved a staff recommendation asking city officials to publicly re-affirm a nearly 2-year-old decision regarding city employees' health care policies.

The discussion was spurred by a request from Councilman TimBen Boydston, who took issue with an $800-per-month discrepancy between what he was eligible for in cash-in-lieu health care benefits compared with his fellow council members.

Due to the nature of his involvement in the issue, Boydston took part in the discussion as a city resident and not an elected official.

During an Oct. 23 meeting at City Hall, city staff prepared a thorough explanation of its two-tiered health care package: It allows for approximately $1,000 per month in a “cafeteria-style” plan that allows all city employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011, to select their services with that money or receive the amount as a cash-in-lieu benefit. Those who began working with the city after that date received a little more than $200 per month as a cash-in-lieu benefit.

During this discussion, the fact that the benefits change had never been addressed by a public resolution, instead being decided in a closed session during negotiations between the city manager and union representatives for city employees, caused concern.

A couple of residents, and Boydston, were upset that there was no public hearing on any city pay change, citing government code. It was later mentioned by city attorney Joe Montes that state law clearly delineates a difference between pay and benefits.

It was these concerns that prompted the City Council to once again address the issue, but with a public resolution recognizing the past action.

City employees such as Boydston are still eligible for the same $1,000 per month in actual benefits, but the difference comes into play if an employee decides to take the-cash-in-lieu benefit.

The first discussion explored the city health care plan down to a semantic level with talk touching on everything from the classifications of city employees to whether Boydston was exempt or could be part of a separate class as an elected person, not a hire.

It was also explained that city benefits were not retroactively implemented, as City Councilman Bob Kellar was elected in the same April 2012 election as Boydston, but Kellar was immune from the change as he was already on the council when City Manager Ken Pulskamp informed city employees of the change in Nov. 23, 2010.

Portions of the changes that were approved were placed on a resolution before the council, but the cash benefits change was not listed, according to city documents. The records indicate there was no negative fiscal impact, and therefore no need to explicitly re-approve such a move during its the budgeting process that year.