Council to consider ordinance eliminating health insurance benefits to its members


With a significant tax increase looming in the municipal budget operations proposed in 2016, the first in years under Mayor Zimmer’s administration, a council ordinance proposes changing and then eliminating health insurance for City Council members is up for a vote tonight.

Most of the members of the City Council obtain health insurance from their full time jobs but the issue of how part time legislators are compensated versus approximately 165 other part time Hoboken employees may weigh in the balance in any vote.

The trend statewide to eliminate health insurance benefits for part time government workers has gone into effect with exceptions given under grandfathering provisions. Most recently, that issue was highlighted in Hoboken when the North Hudson Sewerage Authority saw focus on its last beneficiary Frank “Pupie” Raia seeking to obtain another five year appointed term and retain a taxpayer subsidy.

Hoboken self-insures its own health plan so unlike most Hudson County municipalities, it hasn’t seen any oversight by the state threatening to withdraw aid if it gives part time elected officials an option to purchase health insurance at low cost.

Two council members affected by any draconian reduction or elimination in health insurance benefits are Michael Russo and Ravi Bhalla. A third council member, Tiffanie Fisher is paying the full cost of the health insurance plan to the City.

Council members are paid approximately $24,000 annually in their elected roles. The value estimated for a family plan currently exceeds that compensation and comes in at a cost to taxpayers of more than $33,000. (MSV was not able to finalize the exact figure at press time.)

The health insurance plan’s cost to those who elect to enroll is determined by earnings meaning two council members pay the lowest percentage listed on the chart below at 3% of their less than 25K pay. Mayor Dawn Zimmer like Tiffanie Fisher pays the full cost at the maximum rate of 35%.

Some council members question the fairness to taxpayers, other part time low paid hourly workers and their colleagues. With a looming tax increase proposed at 3.5%, how they ask is the health insurance subsidy to its members at the lowest rate of three percent justifiable?

The City of Hoboken has approximately 165 part time hourly workers.

The ordinance as proposed is sponsored by City Council President Jen Giattino.  A missing addition to the ordinance states that one year after the adoption, council members will not be entitled to health insurance benefits from the City of Hoboken.

The City Council President offered her reasoning for the ordinance writing, “When I think about the cost of a family health plan, a council person’s salary is close to $60,000 essentially if they take health insurance.”

Councilman Michael Russo did not respond to an invitation for comment and Councilman Ravi Bhalla was initially unavailable.

A stipend is paid to council members who do not enroll in the City health insurance plan
(MSV is looking to confirm the figure.)

The ordinance follows:

Talking Ed Note: Five votes are required to pass the proposed ordinance on first reading. The City Council does not discuss ordinance agenda items on first reading.

If the ordinance passes, it will be discussed by the full council in two weeks.

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