Rising health care costs have caused budget concerns for the city, City Manager Tom Hall said during the LaGrange Mayor and Council Retreat in Senoia on Tuesday.
This year, Hall estimated that the city will spend $7 million on health care cost for city employees, up 22 percent from last year by over $1 million.
“Paying $7 million a year for health care is not sustainable at this present situation,” said Hall. “Our health care costs unfortunately don’t show any signs of slowing down and we’re gonna have to make some changes.”
About 300 city employees have family coverage, while about 100 employees have individual coverage. Hall said the major problem is with spousal claims, citing that the city pays over $4 million a year on spousal policies.
In a solution to decrease cost to the city, Hall will recommend for the upcoming budget-effective July 1- that employees pay an extra $10 per week for individual insurance plans and and extra $20 per week for employees with a family insurance plan, which would increase the employee cost of health care by $364,000 annually.
Increasing deductibles and insurance plans and denying spousal coverage if they have access their health care through their own employer will also be considered an option. However, employees whose spouses fall in that category will likely pay a higher premium, potentially $30 more per week.
In other issues, Mayor Jim Thornton invited County Manager Tod Tentler to the retreat to discuss the county’s transportation programs, in an effort to facilitate a discussion on transportation demands for the city.
Nearly 75 percent of the people that use the county’s two transportation programs, which Tentler refers to as the Department of Transportation (DOT) 5311 and DHR programs, reside in the city of LaGrange.
The DOT 5311 program also known as the Troup Transit, Tentler explained, is a program for the elderly and disabled that transports them to doctor offices, dentists, hospitals, grocery stores, etc. at no cost to the user. The DOT pays the transportation costs and pays for 95 percent of the vehicles for the program.
The DHR program required the county to pay for their own vehicles and organizations like Pathways, New Ventures, senior centers, etc. contract with Troup Transit to take the passengers to work.
Tentler explained that the programs have been successful and bring in a revenue of $356,000, though the programs cost about $256,000 to run.
Councilman Tom Gore suggested expanding the county programs to the city as a trial program. Thornton agreed that the city should put together some sort of model before having a trial for the transportation systems.
LaGrange Chief of Public Safety Lou Dekmar was also a guest at the retreat.
Dekmar’s presentation focused on developing green space and other used land around the city to develop parks for recreation, a tool that he said can help cut back on crime. Creating more recreational facilities around the city, keeps at-risk youths off the streets by filling up time that would otherwise use creating trouble and gives them a safe environment to interact with peers.
He discussed how several cities began incorporating more recreation and seeing a decline in crime rates.
Dekmar provided aerial maps of more than 10 locations in LaGrange that have the potential of being used as recreational, some of them having current recreational use. He also modeled a current skate park in Columbus that has become a popular and positive hang out are for the youth. A green space on Thornton Field -located at Chattahoochee Street and Dix Street- was a recommended area for a potential skate park.
The development of more recreational parks also creates an environment for more exercise and provides more aesthetics to neighborhoods, Dekmar mentioned.
Thornton said he would like to see the city move forward with the projects.