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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Carolina Beach Councilman Changes Opinion Of Council Benefits

Carolina Beach Councilman Changes Opinion Of Council Benefits

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The issue of health and dental insurance benefits for elected leaders in Carolina Beach was a topic during the November 2013 municipal election season.
The Council voted in January of this year to "change the dental and health insurance for current and future town council members to be required to pay premiums for dental and health insurance through the town insurance plan which will take effect during the next insurance policy period."
The Council voted to make that change by a three to two vote with Mayor Dan Wilcox and Council members Gary Doetsch and Leann Pierce voting in favor and Council members Steve Shuttleworth and Sarah Friede voting against the change.
Annual Salary – The amount of annual salary to be paid to Elected Officials at the Town of Carolina Beach is not addressed in the Pay Plan Policy of the Town.  Historically, the Town Manager has included a salary line item when preparing the Legislative Body annual budget.  This salary line item may or may not include any type of COLA (Cost of living) or annual increase based on the budget in its entirety. This salary is approved when the entire town budget is adopted by Council.
The 2013/2014 Budget allows for the following salary structure:
• Mayor $8,400/annual
• Mayor Pro-Tem $7,800/annual
• Council Member $7,200/annual
Auto Allowance - While not addressed in any Town Personnel Policy, Council Members are paid $115.38/per pay period or $3,000/annual for an Auto Allowance. The purpose of this Auto Allowance is to compensate Council for wear and tear on their personal automobile, oil changes, maintenance, gasoline to attend local meetings within the County, and the like.
This Auto Allowance is separate from any expenses Council members may submit under the Travel line item on the Legislative Budget, which is addressed in the Town’s Travel Policy.
Cell Phone – The Town has a Cellular Telephone Reimbursement Policy which was adopted by Council on October 6, 2002.  This policy outlines what the Town will reimburse for cellular telephones. No current council member takes advantage of this policy.
IPad – Each Council member is issued an Apple IPad, which has been purchased out of the Legislative Department budget.  The IPad is owned by the Town and must be returned to the Town at the end of an elected official’s term. The Town has a Policy in place regarding Email Usage and a Technology Appropriate Use Policy, both of which have been approved by Council.
Health/Dental Insurance – “Elected Officials” are specifically included in the definitions of eligible individuals to be covered under the Town’s Group Health and Dental Insurance Plans and in the contract language with the applicable vendors.  Elected Officials are not included in the definition of “Eligible Employees” for the purpose of participation in the Group Insurance Plans. While not addressed in any current personnel policy, the Town has traditionally paid the full premium for participation at the Employee Only level of coverage. The current value of this premium annualized is $5,571 for the Medical Plan and $327 for the Dental. If the Council member chooses to cover additional family members on either plan, the council member pays approximately 75% of the premium and the Town pays approximately 25% of the premium.
During the Council's January 14th, meeting Councilman Gary Doetsch explained, "During the last campaign and subsequent election there was an issue which was health and dental benefits for Town Council members as a campaign issue so I made the promise to folks that had the issue that I would bring this up before council and discuss it."
He explained, "I do feel like by offering it to some and not all it equals some unequal compensation. I just want to discuss it and see if there is a better way of doing this."
Mayor Dan Wilcox said it was a campaign issue he ran on to support a change in the healthcare policy.
Council member Leann Pierce questioned whether part time police, fire and lifeguard personnel are offered insurance by the Town? She was told they do not since they are part time employees.
Human Resources Officer Holly Brooks explained that elected officials are specifically included in some programs and not others. They are included in health and dental insurance plans for the Town for years. They are also defined separately from employees. Brooks said when comparing to other similar size Towns in North Carolina half offered the ability to participate in a plan. She said, "The Council person pays 100% of the cost. Half of them do not offer the ability to participate at all."
Councilman Shuttleworth said, "It makes up 50% of the compensation for the amount of hours I work. For the record, I take all of the income I get and buy my children's medical insurance" and, "You are talking less than two one hundredths of a percent of the Town budget. So you have to decide whether your time or my time is worth that to the public to get those kind of compensations."
Doetsch said, "If we are going to have council members pay for their insurance we have got to figure out what percent. Do we want them to pay 100% of the premiums or pay a partial amount of those premiums."
Council member Sarah Friede opposed any change to the policy stating, "We should all agree that being on council is not necessarily compatible with being employed full time for someone else. It would be very difficult to meet all the time requirements and do a good job. We have nighttime meetings, daytime meetings. We have other things that we do as part of our obligation to Council."
The Council is scheduled to meet on Friday June 6th at 4PM to discuss the proposed budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year which begins July 1.
Councilman Doetsch explained in an email to a resident  D.A. Lewis last week that his opinion on the issue had changed since January of this year.
Doetsch explained, "I have asked that Insurance benefits be studied and reviewed to make sure we as a town make this process extremely transparent and in the best interest to tax payers. Knowing how much time we have spent looking at this issue I feel I need to put this issue behind me and move on to other issues that face the town. When I looked at this issue in the beginning it seemed to be important that it was not clear to the public how this was established and I thought it should be. Now after seeing what this Council is responsible for and knowing how much time each of us spend in meetings that extend far beyond just what is normally scheduled Council meetings held at Town Hall I do feel these benefits to Council Members are not out of line. I feel spending any more time on this issue would be better spent on other issues facing our town. I'm sorry this is probably not what you want to hear but knowing how you feel about Town issues the effort expended for the benefit received is small. I do think we should manage our Town with the most frugal efforts to spending but knowing how much we have to do I think we must spend time making sure our infrastructure, future potential water needs, street improvements and other issues that guarantee the health and safety to our residents must take priority at this time. We will discuss this prior to approving the budget but we must move on after the final discussion. I have always valued your opinion and wish we had more citizens who were as involved with our Town as you have always been. I look forward to working with you in future projects and do think we are making a positive impact on our Town. Thank you for your tireless efforts and work that keep residents aware of future needs and functions of our Town Government."
Doetsch said the amount equates to around $27,600 a year to fund benefits for Council.