News

Council may get benefits

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

After recommending raises for Federal Way City Council members last year, the city’s Salary Commission is back to work, this time on the possibility of providing benefits.

The commission, which met yesterday and Jan. 12, is focusing mainly on health insurance.

Last year, the commission recommended a 30 percent pay increase for council members and a 65 percent increase for the mayor based on comparisons with similar cities. Council members here now receive $1,075 a month and the mayor receives $1,375 a month.

State law grants the commission’s recommendations the authority of law without approval from the mayor or council, but the recommendations are subject to voter referendum.

Because council members and the mayor are part-time city employees, they have never received benefits.

The commission last year didn’t pursue a benefits package because it ran out of time, chairman Frank Marshall said then.

According to data the commission is reviewing, Yakima has a council-manager type of city government similar to Federal Way and a population of 79,120. Council members in Yakima are paid $800 a month and don’t receive benefits.

Federal Way’s population is 83,850.

Bellevue, population 117,000, also has a council-manager type of government. Council members there make $1,650 a month with $793 in benefits, including medical, dental, pension and life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment and long-term disability. Bellevue also offers a $150 monthly car allowance.

Everett, population 95,990, has a mayor-council type of government. It pays $1,676 a month to council members with $460 in monthly benefits, including medical, dental and vision, life and accidental death and dismemberment.

If Federal Way treated council members as regular half-time employees, the maximum cost to the city per month would be $427.75 for medical, $138.70 for dental and $15.76 for vision, for a monthly total of $582.21 per council member, or $4,075.47 a month for all of them, according to city data.

Council members would have to pay $427.75 a month themselves to cover the full premium cost, though the city is required to pay 100 percent of vision and dental coverage.

On Jan. 12, the commission reviewed a recent survey that solicited council members’ general interest in a benefits package, as well as specific interest in medical, dental and vision coverage, deferred compensation, life insurance, long-term disability, orthodontia, additional family coverage, cost-sharing, whether they would prefer cash or deferred compensation in lieu of benefits, and any other coverage they’d want.

According to survey results, most council members expressed general interest in health benefits. Councilman Jim Ferrell was the only one who disagreed with the plan, saying he doesn’t believe “it’s the city’s role to provide benefits to the council, especially if it costs more money.”

Councilman Jack Dovey was interested in buying benefits through the city if they’re offered. He added he was interested in a Nextel phone program.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar said she was generally interested in benefits, “depending on what other cities offer,” in order to attract more candidates to the office.

Councilman Eric Faison said he’s interested in life insurance and long-term disability “only if there was no additional cost to the city.”

Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge expressed an across-the-board interest in a benefits package, adding she was interested in a cafeteria-type benefits plan.

Councilman Mike Park also expressed a broad interest in benefits, but was less interested in life insurance and long-term disability. He said he’s also interested in a vehicle allowance for council members.

Mayor Dean McColgan expressed interest in the idea, but said he doesn’t need medical, dental and vision, and he thought life insurance, long-term disability and additional family coverage could be an option for those who were interested. He stressed “equality in value of compensation between and among council and with employees.”

At a meeting yesterday, commission members explored the VEBA trust — an account created in each council member’s name into which the city would deposit money to reimburse them for medical expenses.

The account can pay for qualified medical, dental or vision out-of-pocket expenses, as well as post-retirement medical, dental or vision insurance premiums, some Medicare expenses and tax-qualified long-term care premiums.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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