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Athens employees could pay more for insurance

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

ATHENS — During a budget work session Thursday, the Athens City Council discussed lowering the percentage the city pays for employee health insurance cost.

City Clerk John Hamilton asked to hire an additional magistrate clerk, which Finance Director Evan Thornton said would cost about $27,000 in salary plus almost $15,000 in benefits.

City Councilman Ronnie Marks was surprised to learn the city is paying so much of its employees' benefits.

"You're looking at 40 percent benefits, and we can't afford to continue paying that much," Marks said. "Pretty soon that will rise to 45 percent, then to 50 percent and then to 55 percent, and that would put us into bankruptcy."

Thornton said the city offers its own insurance and pays 85 percent of each full-time employee's health insurance. Council members all agreed the percentage is too high.

Mayor Dan Williams said the previous council began paying 85 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums after learning that many city employees couldn't afford insurance and went without.

Councilwoman Millie Caudle said city employees should understand that insurance costs are skyrocketing and the city will have to make adjustments to balance its budget.

Thornton said the choice is between cutting the percentage the city pays for insurance now or cutting employees later, as Decatur did recently. He also suggested comparing the city-run insurance with the cost of using an outside provider like Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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