City may change benefits

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2001

City employees soon may see major changes in health insurance policies, Alderman David Massey said Tuesday.

&uot;We’ll be revamping the city’s insurance for employees and families,&uot; Massey said. &uot;The city can no longer afford free insurance and low deductibles.&uot;

Massey’s comments came after board members heard City Clerk Donnie Holloway’s request to move $100,000 from the gaming fund and $100,000 from the public property fund into the insurance fund to cover a shortfall of nearly $300,000.

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&uot;You’re going to see some radical changes,&uot; Massey said. Board members and other officials will meet at 4:30 p.m. Monday with insurance consultants to look for ways to correct the system.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said Natchez is not alone in its insurance crisis. &uot;This is a problem that is just about statewide. Jackson is having similar problems,&uot; he said.

Massey said that working with consultants would give aldermen the best options for making the changes as easy as possible on the approximately 300 city employees insured by the plan.

Holloway said payments are up to date through May. &uot;We hope this will take us through the end of the year,&uot; he said.

As a self-insured program, the city pays employee claims less than $25,000. Anything more is covered by the city’s reinsurer, Mississippi Municipal Service Company. The health insurance plan has been inadequately funded for a long time, Holloway said. &uot;And we’ve had some big claims and some bad illnesses. We’ve been hit hard.&uot;

Under the plan now, city employees receive free health insurance. They have an option to pay premiums of about $180 a month to insure family members.

&uot;We’ll be looking at different options,&uot; Holloway said. &uot;It’s tough. When you’ve got someone making $14,000 to $15,000 a year and you tell them they have to pay $100 a month for their insurance, that’s hard. And some of these people haven’t had raises in two to three years.&uot;

Nonetheless, Massey said, the board has no choice but to change its policies. &uot;The day of employees of the city having free insurance is coming to an end, but we’ll get the best possible options and the least hurtful ones.&uot;

In other business at the meeting:

The board appointed Becky J. Nevill to the Convention and Visitors Bureau board. Nevill, instructor of the tourism and hospitality program at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez, fills the position vacated by Woody Allen.

Ralph Tedder, recreation director, told the board that expenses for building a new temporary field for 13- and 14-year-old Dixie Youth baseball players will be approximately $21,000 not including costs of a water line, sewage line, restrooms and an entrance road. Lighting fixtures and most of the fencing were saved from the field abandoned on Liberty Road to make way for the Natchez Trace Parkway. &uot;We can get a lot of the work donated,&uot; said Alderman Massey.

Timing is a problem, Tedder said. Archaeology studies at the property adjacent to Natchez High School are under way. No design for recreation facilities at that site can begin until the study is complete, however, and no firm date has been set for completion of the archaeology report.

Alderman James &uot;Ricky&uot; Gray said a request for help in cleaning up some illegal dumping sites in his ward led to success. &uot;I asked James Johnston to help, and he came up with a $25,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Quality.&uot; Johnston is the city’s community development coordinator.

Police Chief Willie Huff said the low bid for a new telephone system for the police department was $21,404 and was submitted by ITC Delcom of Jackson. &uot;The new system will be paid for by a grant. It will include voice mail for a lot of the officers who don’t have it and a whole lot of modern features that we don’t have now,&uot; Huff said.

Huff also said a $36,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will fund purchase of 11-12 video cameras for use in patrol cars. &uot;Just about any municipality of any size has these cameras,&uot; he said. The cameras will benefit police officers as well as motorists and others who come in contact with police officers, Huff said.

Huff asked the board’s advice on Watkins Cemetery, an old cemetery where burials continue to take place but where little if any maintenance is conducted by those who own plots there. The cemetery is located along Watkins Street near Frazier Primary School. &uot;It’s not owned by anybody. It was deeded in 1903 to an association that no longer is in existence. No one pays taxes on it. No one is in charge. And the grass is knee-deep,&uot; Huff said. &uot;The lack of upkeep is a concern among the residents there.&uot;

Huff suggested getting a volunteer group such as Girl Scouts to mark the graves and map them and perhaps to get churches to pool resources to form a perpetual maintenance fund.

&uot;I think one thing we need to do is to stop burying people there,&uot; he said. &uot;That would be a long-term solution.&uot; Huff also suggested blocking one end of the cemetery so that there would not be a drive-through.

City Attorney Walter Brown suggested the board have a public meting to discuss ways to maintain the cemetery. The board agreed that the public hearing will be part of the next regular meeting on Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

Fire Chief Gary Winborne announced that a $40,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will assist the department in purchasing 18 self-contained breathing apparatuses. &uot;We’ll come up with the 10 percent match. We have that in our budget.&uot; The new units will provide safer and more technologically advanced equipment for firefighters, he said.