Vero Beach leaders mull employee health options, including clinic

VERO BEACH — Vero Beach city leaders are reviewing various options of getting the cost of employee health benefits under control in an attempt to trim the city’s budget and leave the city’s levels of service steady.

One  proposal on the table is for the city to support a base health plan, with the employees having the ability to choose and pay for upgrades to the base plan. Another could be the resurrection of a city-run health clinic for city employees.

A formal health plan proposal with firmer cost estimates is expected at the June quarterly budget review.

“We’ve targeted, we’re trying to find $1 million,” City Manager Jim Gabbard told the Vero Beach City Council earlier this week at a special meeting. “When the issue of the (proposed employee health) clinics went by the wayside, we knew we had to do something.”

Vice Mayor Sabe Abell told council he thinks a city-run health clinic for municipal employees is still a viable option.

“With the health plan, I think there are other options, and I still haven’t given up on the option of the clinic situation where we can save $250,000,” Abell said.

Any change in employee health benefits would need to be negotiated with the Teamsters local union, and Teamsters representative Steve Myers said that employees already on 5 percent furloughs cannot afford to have more taken out of their paychecks to fund pensions or health premiums.

In the current year, the Teamsters negotiated a deal to accept furloughs in exchange for the city picking up a 14 percent increase in healthcare costs for union employees.

“I would object to and I’m going to object to any employee increase in contributions,” Myers said. “Employees have agreed to sacrifice and continue to sacrifice taking furlough days. There’s no way the employees can sustain their way of living with all these reductions.”

Local resident Joseph Guffanti, wearing a Communication Workers of America union t-shirt, respectfully disagreed.

“I don’t want to see them lose their jobs, but the people are hurting,” Guffanti said.

Guffanti said that city employees can’t be immune to the economic suffering being experienced by the people who are paying their salaries through their taxes and utility bills. “Some of that hurting has to be shared,” Guffanti said.

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