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Editorial: Eliminate Cash Equivalent

Managing Editor

The Carolina Beach Town Council voted last week to change their health insurance benefits. The decision reduces their healthcare coverage by 20%, eliminates dependent coverage and allows elected leaders to take a "cash equivalent" which they can use to pay their own private coverage instead of the Town's plan. The motion passed by a three to two vote. Mayor Dan Wilcox and Council members Leann Pierce and Gary Doetsch voted in favor. Steve Shuttleworth and Sarah Friede voted no.
Shuttleworth and Friede took exception with the move claiming it was only a tiny fraction of the budget and that it was a policy decision rather than a fiscal move. Also, Shuttleworth was the only one who utilized the dependent coverage for his kids.
While myself and other citizens have expressed a desire to see such coverage eliminated for elected leaders, the cash equivalent option voted on at the June 10th, meeting is actually a pay raise. Many people feel elected leaders in this small Town are selected by the voters based on their desire to voluntarily serve the community. Furthermore, part-time town employees do not get insurance.
Many voters don't realize the Council gets paid for their time.
In addition to health and dental insurance, the Mayor receives and annual salary of $8,400. The Mayor Pro-Tem, $7,800. Council members receive $7,200. They also receive a $3,000 annual auto allowance, reimbursement for travel expenses, a cell phone subsidy and an iPad.
Councilman Gary Doetsch said earlier this year he was in favor of eliminating the insurance coverage entirely. At the June 10th, meeting Mayor Wilcox said he didn't want to punish anyone and instead proposed to phase out the coverage over a number of years starting with a reduction. Doetsch said he went along with that compromise because he knew his motion for elimination wouldn't pass. The cash equivalent does nothing to address the issue of eliminating insurance coverage. It's basically a pay raise for those who chose not to be on the Town's plan; usually because they already have private coverage. The coverage costs the Town about $6,000 a year per official.
This issue should be revisited and the cash equivalent option should be eliminated. If some want a pay raise, that's an entirely different discussion.
For example, Wilcox can drop his coverage with the Town since he also has a private policy. His annual salary as Mayor is $8,400.00. If he takes the cash equivalent option rather than Town insurance coverage, he will receive around $6,000.00 in additional annual taxable income from the Town that could be used to pay for his private policy or for any other purpose.
Eliminating the "cash equivalent" option would still afford leaders equal benefits across the board. It would allow them to choose not to take the health insurance coverage and save taxpayers dollars. Which was the point of the issue all along.