City grapples with big increase in health costs

By Dennis Minich

Just like many other businesses across the country, the city of Harrisonville is grappling with the rising costs of health insurance. The board of aldermen were told Monday night the increase is going to be significant, the only questions remaining is how much of the increase will be borne by the city and how much will be passed on to employees.

The city’s employees are covered by Midwest Public Risk, an insurance cooperative which serves about 8,500 public employees in Missouri and Kansas. Last month, the board was informed the rates for insurance were being raised by about $36,000 per year. It was decided the city would work with an insurance broker to look for better rates for next year. However, there are still six months left in the contract this year at the increased rate.

During a work session prior to Monday’s regular meeting, City Administrator Happy Welch said the city has some money available which has been budgeted for an airport manager, but questioned how much of the money should go into the insurance increase.

Welch said the jump of about 20 percent is the result of claims in the pool.

“It’s a result of the pool, not just us,” Welch said. “A number of cities had events like we did and that effects the total pool.”

Welch presented a plan to the board which would pay about $25 additional for each employee per month, which averaged to about an 8 percent savings. But Mayor Judy Bowman and Aldermen Gary Davidson and David Dickerson, among others, said they would like to see the city pick up a larger portion of the tab.

According to Faith Sherman, the city’s human resources director, the city currently spends about $83,500 per month on employee health insurance. The employees themselves pay another $22,420. She said the exact cost per employee was hard to gauge because the city offers three different tiers and plans can be individual, couple or family.

She said the lowest employee-paid premium currently is around $30 per month and the highest individual plan with a family is around $500. If the total cost was passed along it would add taken out  of employees’ paychecks.

After discussion, the board requested city staff to come back with cost projections with the city picking up an additional 10 to 15 percent of the total cost.

While in the work session, the board also discussed allocating funds to the OATS Transportation Services. OATS provides bus services primarily to older or disabled residents, allowing them to get to work, doctors’ appointments or running errands. Last year, the service provided five days per week of service, but following the government shut down, it was dropped to two days per week. Welch said the service will be discontinued in Harrisonville July 1 if some new arrangements can’t be made.

He shared comparisons from a variety of area cities, some pay nothing and others pay up to $15,000 for the service. After comparing plans, Welch was directed to begin negotiations to see what arrangements might be available for local service.

Also during the work session, the board discussed burning ordinances in the city. Previously, Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) guidelines did not permit open burning in communities near Kansas City and St. Louis, so Harrisonville’s ordinances do not allow burning. Recently, the DNR reversed its policy allowing cities to again permit burning if they wished.

Welch said the board could keep the ban in place or adopt ordinances concerning individuals burning. The board indicated an interest in adopting limited burning of yard debris during the fall and spring months, however staff will be responsible for drafting what is included in the law.

During the regular meeting, the city hired the Mauer Law Firm to provide city attorney services while a bid process is developed and sent out. The post became vacant last month when City Attorney John Fairfield resigned.

While discussing the temporary arrangement, Dickerson questioned the mayor about the opening.

“You said he had resigned, but in his letter, he said you had asked for his resignation. I thought he did a fine job,” Dickerson said.

Bowman answered, “Yes, I asked for his resignation. I believe some of his legal advice was questionable and I had questions about his billing.”

Dickerson asked if Mauer’s services would cost less and the Bowman said, “I believe so, yes.”

Mauer had served as city attorney previously, but was asked to resign in August of 2016 by then-Mayor Brian Hasek. He was replaced by Fairfield.

The temporary arrangement passed 7-1. Brad Bockelman was the lone no vote. Aldermen Dickerson, Davidson, Matt Turner, Clint Miller, Dan Doerhoff, Judy Reese and Marcia Milner all voted yes.

The board approved the appointment of Sandy Franklin to the park board and the reappointment of Bill Woods and Julie Cooper to the historic preservation commission.

The board also listened as two residents of the Walker Subdivision talked about recent flooding in the area and wondered if there was any way the city could provide some kind of warning system in flood-prone areas.

The board also approved permits for the Stacy Cox 5K run event and approved closing two streets near Memorial Stadium for a band competition to be held in October.

Bowman also read proclamations for National Police Week and National Skilled Nursing Care Week, both May 12-18 and for National EMS week May 19-25.

The board was also given a brief overview on the  completed annual audit where no major concerns were found.

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