A proposal to end free health insurance for council members is afoot, but the Dist. 7 council representative Vincent Alexander opposes changing members’ insurance coverage mid-term.(Karl Jeter)
Parish council health insurance questioned
Concerns have again been raised about the costly health insurance plan available to parish council members.
At the June 16 committee meetings, Councilman Brook Champagne received a less-than-warm response from some members for his announced intention to introduce an ordinance ending the coverage at the regular meeting on July 7. A vote on the matter would be held in August.
The policies are currently carried by just three of the nine council members: Vincent Alexander, Byron Fuselier and Tangie Narcisse. The cost to taxpayers $1,221 per month for each participating member. Their salary is $800 per month for what is considered a part-time position.
Champagne commented that this amounts to a lavish “perk” that effectively raises those members’ pay to more than $2,000 per month. He told the Teche News, “It would be a reasonable compromise to continue the coverage for all members’ current terms rather than stop it at the end of the year.”
He pointed out that he does not in any way fault members who opt to carry the policy, but if all members did so, the cost to taxpayers would be more than $527,000 over a four-year term.
Council Chairman Dean LeBlanc told the Teche News that, while an attempt three years ago to address the costly benefit failed, more members carried the policy then and there may be more support for changing the policy now.
LeBlanc said he intends to gather information about base pay and benefits offered to council members in comparably-sized parishes in the area to bring to the council.
Councilman Vincent Alexander took strenuous exception to the proposal to revisit the matter, attempting to table the question. But LeBlanc pointed out that issues under discussion in committee meetings cannot be tabled.
Alexander suggested that, for him, the job is actually 24/7, because he takes calls from constituents at all hours.
“I understand what you are saying,” Champagne responded, “We all do that. Still, it’s not even really a part-time job. $800 is enough compensation for what we do. We’re here as public servants.”
Council member Narcisse, who was not in attendance, sent a letter, which was read into the record by Parish Clerk Laci Laperouse. She said that the parish is responsible for many personnel costs and it would not be fair to end the coverage for council members at the time the COVID pandemic is placing additional risks on members.
But Champagne pointed out that full-time parish employees have their insurance covered by the taxpayers, but not part-timers. Council members, he said, should be subject to the same rules.