Steamboat voters to decide whether council members will keep health insurance
July 23, 2017
Steamboat Springs voters will decide in November whether their elected officials will continue to receive taxpayer-funded health and dental insurance benefits from the city.
Since about 1990, the city has offered its seven city council members access to the same health insurance benefits enjoyed by city employees.
The city budgeted to spend up to $95,000 on the council's combined insurance benefits this year.
But city voters have never approved the compensation, as required in the city charter.
The charter requires any council compensation, including fringe benefits, such as health insurance, to be approved by a majority of the electorate.
Current city officials say they don't know why the health insurance benefit was introduced about 27 years ago without voter approval.
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The flaw was discovered late last year.
Now, the city finds itself in a tricky legal situation.
To get out of it and adhere to the charter, the current council has decided to put the health care question to voters on Nov. 7.
And, as they discussed the ballot language earlier this month, council members wanted to ensure the question was worded in a way to make it clear the benefit isn’t new.
"This has been something that has been around for a long time," Councilwoman Robin Crossan said.
Councilwoman Heather Sloop has said the health insurance benefit is an important recruiting tool for the council.
Without it, she fears fewer people would run for council.
Despite the discovery that the council benefit goes against city rules, council members continue to have access to the city's health insurance plans.
That's because City Attorney Dan Foote thinks council members might have a legal case if the city takes away a benefit that was promised them when they ran for office.
It is not yet clear how quickly the city would end the benefits if voters reject the benefit plan in the fall.
The council will finalize the ballot language Tuesday.
The city self-insures its employee medical and dental health care benefits, and the average annual cost of the benefit to the city, per employee, is $12,763.
The average cost to each employee is $6,786.
Steamboat isn't the only municipality or mountain resort community in the state that offers health and dental insurance benefits to its elected officials.
Breckenridge, Durango and Vail are among the cities and towns that also offer their elected officials health insurance benefits.