2 East Ridge Retirees To Get Insurance For Life From The City; Uncertain On Who Else Gets In On The Deal; Pool Property To Become Park

Friday, February 28, 2014 - by Gail Perry

Two East Ridge retirees will be getting insurance for life provided by the city. It is uncertain if others will be able to get in on the deal.

At the Jan. 23 meeting of the East Ridge City Council, a plan was adopted to provide city health insurance for retirees and their spouses as a reward for working for the city at least 25 years. It also was viewed as an incentive to encourage retirement as a way for the city to save money. The motion as proposed by Vice Mayor Jim Bethune gave 100 percent coverage of health insurance to the retired employee and 50 percent of the cost for their spouse.

A 90-day window was designated for employees to take advantage of the offer. It specifically excluded vision, dental and life insurance from this group.

Problems in interpretation of the ordinance became apparent when it was noticed that no age was specified as the ending for this benefit. Vice Mayor Bethune said his intent was to provide the insurance until death of the retiree. The other councilmen assumed the cut-off would be at age 65 when that person would be eligible for Medicare. The actual ordinance was vague and did not specify any age.

The matter became more complicated when two employees, who relied on something that was not actually in the written ordinance, decided to retire, believing that all health insurance costs would be covered by the city for life. Another issue that came to light Thursday night is the impact this decision would have on the city’s group health insurance policy with BCBS. The policy does not include retirees beyond age 65 and will require getting an exception. Premiums may increase because of lifetime coverage. The provider also would have the right to drop coverage on those people in the future, but the city would still be responsible for finding coverage elsewhere, possibly with more expensive alternatives.

After an hour and a half debate over the matter and a recess to re-write a motion, Mayor Brent Lambert, with advice from City Attorney Hal North, made a motion to first accept the original proposal as written, which matched the transcript of the meeting when it was originally adopted. The councilmen then voted to amend the resolution to immediately close the window of time for taking advantage of the offer. The lifetime health benefits will only apply to the two employees that tendered their resignation dependent on the resolution passed in January. The new motion also says that specific details of the benefits for future retirees are to be determined at a later date.

In other business, an ordinance passed on second reading to specify that the clerk for the municipal court must have been a resident of East Ridge for at least one year before the election. Following the initial election in August 2014, subsequent elections for the position will be held every four years in November to coincide with the other city voting.

The application and acceptance of a local parks and recreation grant was approved for work to convert the old East Ridge pool property into a play-fitness park with a walking/running track, a dog park and a large area of grassy space. The grant application requires two public meetings for community input. These are scheduled for March 13 and March 17.

City Manager Andrew Hyatt told the council that he has had two interviews with candidates for the new position of city treasurer. This new position will oversee all finances of the city as well as functioning in the position of grants coordinator and deputy city manager.

An increase in rental fees for use of the East Ridge community center was given approval. The cost will now be $50 per hour up to $300 for five or more hours. There will be packages available at $75 for two hours for baby showers and birthday parties.

A discussion took place about replacing antiquated fuel pumps that the city owns. Options would be to move new ones to a place outside the flood zone, and put them above ground. Replacing tanks will require extensive environmental work which prompted Councilman Marc Gravitt to ask the city manager to investigate if it would be more cost efficient to contract with a local fuel supplier. The city plans on continuing to use the city-owned diesel pump. City Manager Hyatt will get back to the council with information that he finds.

A vote to apply for a fire safety grant was also approved. If received, the money would go toward the purchase of a trailer used to demonstrate the way fires burn and to educate the public of best practices.

Up to $15,000 was approved for building a Vietnam veterans memorial in front of city hall. This will be to give tribute to East Ridge citizens that served in Vietnam and came home and to honor those that did not.

The Army Corps of Engineers gave a presentation to the commissioners about a study for flood control for East Ridge. There would be an initial study done for $100,000 to determine if there is enough of a problem to undertake a full study and to develop a plan. This cost would be covered by the federal government. Hydrology studies would be done for different types of flood events such as a “five or 10-year flood.” The initial study would also look at the economic impact different types of floods would have. This is to determine if the return would be worth the cost.

If the corps does a full analysis, the federal government would pay 50 percent of the cost. East Ridge would be responsible for $350,000 to do this more comprehensive research. The results of these reports would tell engineers what could be done about the problems.

If construction to solve the flooding follows, 65 percent of that cost would be covered by the federal government up to $7 million. East Ridge would pay 35 percent of the cost. The entire project would be in the ball park of $11 million.

Even with the cost being close to half of the city’s entire yearly budget, the work would not be considered a large scale solution that would stop all problems, the council was told. It would offer help to those that have nuisance floods each year with cloudbursts. Channel widening could be done so the stream bed could handle more water. The first and least costly measure would be to issue flood warnings before events begin. Another would be to buy out houses at fair market value that have repeated problems. The city would get the deed but could use the land only for green spaces. What the corps would be able to do is to offer flood damage reduction, not flood control. The matter will be discussed on a conference call with representatives from the Corps at the first meeting in March.

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