Assembly backs partners policy

City leaders vote 6-2 to keep health plan that includes benefits for domestic partners

Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The majority of the Juneau Assembly backed City Manager Rod Swope on Monday on his decision to provide health insurance benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler offered a motion that said Swope has the authority to provide health benefits to domestic partners of city employees, and the Assembly has no intention of overriding Swope's decision.

The Assembly vote on the motion was 6-2. Assembly members Randy Wanamaker and Merrill Sanford voted no. Jim Powell was absent.

Wanamaker pressed Swope on whether he would hold a public meeting on his decision. Earlier, Greg Jerue, a Juneau Airport supervisor, had suggested that Swope schedule such a meeting.

"The city health insurance policy has the potential of spending millions," Jerue said. "There are moral, legal and financial questions."

Swope will not hold a public meeting on the issue because the majority of the Assembly supports his decision, he said. The city manager takes his direction from the Assembly, not the public, he said.

Opponents of benefits for domestic partners say the city made the policy decision without notifying the public. They argue it may cost more money.

Swope defended his decision, saying the city did not anticipate domestic partners to cost more money because only a small number are expected to enroll. Claims for a small number of additional employees are not expected to affect the city budget, he said.

"Based on equity for all CBJ employees, I believe that all city and borough employees are entitled to the same benefits," Swope said.

He said the city researched the effects of providing benefits for domestic partners in other cities and found an average of four-tenths of a percent to 4 percent enrolled.

The city charter gives him the authority to make health-care policy decisions because the city is self-insured. The city pays $700 per month per employee. City taxpayers would have to pay more for uninsured residents in the long-run, because Bartlett Regional Hospital treats those who do not have health insurance, Swope said. If the uninsured cannot afford to pay hospital health-care costs, the taxpayers pick up the costs in the end, he said.

In other business, Juneau residents will pay a new motor vehicle registration tax to crack down on junk and abandoned vehicles, the Assembly decided Monday.

Owners of noncommercial passenger vehicles and pickup or vans not exceeding 10,000 pounds will pay $22 every two years. Motorcycles and noncommercial trailers are subject to $4 every two years.

Taxes for commercial vehicles will vary. The tax takes effect Jan. 1, 2005.

The Assembly voted 7-1, with Assembly member David Stone voting no. Assembly member Powell was absent.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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