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Carolina Beach Council Split On Making Members Pay For Benefits

Click image for larger view. Carolina Beach Town Council. (Photo from file).

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council discussed Benefits for Council Members at their January 14th, meeting.
According to the agenda released last week the discussion was requested by Council Member Gary Doetsch, Mayor Dan Wilcox and Mayor Pro-tem Leann Pierce.
The agenda stated, “Council would like to discuss the costs associated with council member benefits such as: Who currently participates in town health insurance? What would it cost the town to cover all council members annually? Could council members sign up for benefits and pay the premium themselves? If so, what would that cost?”
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.
For the purpose of comparison the following benchmarking data was obtained from similar sized communities who contributed information to the North Carolina League of Municipalities. (See chart at right).
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."
Town Attorney Noel Fox said, "There is a statute in place in the state of North Carolina that does give the Town Council to ability to set their own compensation. It's tied to the adoption of the annual budget."
Fox said, "Any discussion tonight or any action that Council wanted to take would take place during the budget workshops as a direction to staff or Town Manager for the Town budget. I think that would be most appropriate under the law."
The Town adopts a budget in June to start July 1.
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."
Wilcox said during his previous time serving as a council member, he was covered by the Town's health insurance.
Brooks said Kure Beach does not offer health and dental to elected officials and Wrightsville Beach elected officials are not able to participate in the employee group insurance program.
Council member Sarah Friede said, "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. History shows most people decide to run for council and are on council are either retired or self-employed in some manner. I think people with the benefit of being retired probably had a health insurance plan that was in place and they may have the ability to continue on under that plan or maybe able to participate in government programs for people over 65. People who are self-employed have a difficult time getting health insurance. So it is important to me to be in a group policy. It's a better policy for a much more affordable premium than I would ever be able to get on my own as a self employed person."
She said, "I would ask that where ever the discussion goes we try to separate the issue of making it available to council members without making it available to other part-timers if that's the issue there and then have the financial impact on the Town as a separate discussion."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "I appreciate the conversation and I'm happy to talk about it in the budget cycle. It will be no surprise to you guys I'm not really overly excited about giving up the benefit. 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."
He said, "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. It's roughly 50% of the compensation package. I was aware of it when I ran for Council. It's not why I ran for Council but it certainly did not dissuade me from it. So I'm happy to have that conversation and I understand where you guys are at. I'd be happy to look at that during the budget cycle."
Doetsch said, "I understand what you are saying and I agree there are some of us that put in a lot of hours." He said, "It was a campaign issue and the people of Carolina Beach who elected me felt like that was a legitimate reason I guess to vote and have somebody to bring this up."
Shuttleworth said, "If that's the most significant budget issue then I'm sure I'll go in lockstep with you. If it's a philosophical issue about compensation for council, let's have the philosophical conversation about what is it worth to the Town to have someone serve on Council."
Wilcox said he had a lot of people inquire about it during his campaign. He said, "Not so much philosophical, but in comparison to what other towns our size do. I'm self-employed. I pay for my own health insurance so I'm like everyone else. I stated during the campaign that I would support modifications" to health insurance benefits for elected leaders.
Doetsch said, "My proposal is to take the health and dental insurance policy for the current and future council members to be required to pay premiums for dental and health insurance through the town insurance plan which would take affect" in the next fiscal budget starting July1.
He 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.”
Doetsch said he was prepared to adopt a new policy requiring elected officials to pay for their own insurance through the Town's group plan. He proposed the longer council members serve over the years, the less of a percentage they would be required to pay starting at 100% for the first four years and then decreasing over time to 0% for officials serving over 20 years.
He said, "As you build up seniority your insurance gets cheaper."
Council member Friede said she wasn't able to make a decision without knowing what she would ultimately pay.
Attorney Fox said a future council could change that plan.
Doetsch made a motion stating, "I motion that we change the dental and health insurance policy 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 affect during the next insurance policy period."
Doetsch said the percentages and premiums can be discussed later during the budget planning process this spring.
The Council voted three to two with Mayor Dan Wilcox and Council members Leann Pierce and Gary Doetsch voting in favor and Council members Steve Shuttleworth and Sarah Friede voting against the motion.

Town Name

Mayor - Annual

Mayor ProTem - Annual

Council Member Annual

Carolina Beach - Town issued Ipad, auto allowance, travel reimbursement, cell phone reimbursement, Town pays 100% of health/dental insurance on council member.

$8,400+$3,000(Auto) = $11,400

$7,800+$3,000(Auto) = $10,800

$7,200+$3,000 (Auto) = $10,200

Town of Highlands –Town issued Ipad and travel reimbursement only




Town of Hope Mills - $100 travel allowance, $30 cell phone stipend. Council Member pays 100% of all medical/dental plan costs. Town issued computer




Town of Boone – no benefits, travel reimbursement only




Town of Zebulon – Town pays 100% of health/dental insurance on council member only. Travel reimbursement, Mayor gets $50 phone stipend