Local News

Healthy Debate Launched Over Benefits for Cary Council Members

Posted November 14, 2007 7:19 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2007 9:17 p.m. EST

— They may be part-time elected officials, but Cary's council members are now eligible for the same health benefits as town employees. A new town policy also provides benefits to members who leave office, including those whom voters turn out of office.

In Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, health benefits are not extended to elected officials after they leave office. Wake and Durham counties do allow post-term commissioners to stay on the town's health plan, and Cary is giving outgoing council members the same opportunity.

“I don't think it's wrong at all to treat them like full-time employees, instead of part-time employees, in terms of health-care because to many, it is a full-time job,” said Don Hyatt, Webmaster for CaryPolitics.org.

The new policy, approved Nov. 8, applies to ex-council members who were enrolled in the town's health plan. If a person served two full, four-year terms, the town subsidizes half of that council member's health premium. For three full terms, 75 percent is subsidized.

If the person served four full terms, the town pays for the entire policy after he or she leave office.

Hyatt said the proposal was partly driven by members' wanting to help longtime councilman Jack Smith, who needs a kidney transplant.

"The combination of several having health problems and Jack having serious health problems got it up for discussion,” Hyatt said.

Council members who voted for the proposal were: Mayor Pro Tem Ernie McAlister, Jack Smith, Jennifer Robinson and Nels Roseland. Erv Portman, Julie Robison and Marla Dorrel voted against it.

The supporters did not make themselves available to talk on-camera Wednesday to WRAL's Renee Chou.

Portman said he doesn't think the health plan is a good use of taxpayer money.

“I just felt it was not something that's been historically offered to council members and I didn't see justification for expanding that benefit,” he said.

Annual costs to cover health premiums runs from $3,500 to $4,000 per person.

Robison, Robinson, Roseland and Smith are enrolled under the town's health insurance plan.

Roseland is the only current member who would be affected by the extension of benefits, since he was not re-elected. However, he said he will discontinue his benefits.

The policy will have the town subsidize premiums until Medicare coverage kicks in or age 65, whichever comes first.