City work session focuses on insurance, garbage cans and beautification

(Top) Peggy Yates and Mickey Watkins of McGriffin Insurance discuss changing the health insurance plans provided to Starkville employees. (photo by Faith Lifer, SDN)

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

In Friday’s work session, the Starkville Board of Aldermen discussed ways the city could potentially save money by changing health insurance plans, garbage disposal methods and mowing policies.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A’. Perkins, and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn were absent from Friday’s work session.

Health insurance policies Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk opened the discussion of current and potential health insurance plans for city employees with members of McGriffin Insurance present.

“We want to be able to provide our employees the best benefit possible,” Sistrunk said. “But we also recognize that whatever we do is going to have to be sustainable.”

In the last three years, the cost of the city’s health insurance has increased by 25 percent. One potential change the city considered is changing the health plan’s deductible.

According to Mickey Watkins, senior vice president of McGriffin Insurance, the city increased its health plan deductibles to $750 last year, but only 60 out of roughly 500 city employees met that deductible. Watkins told aldermen that most employers over-insure their employees, explaining that the city was wasting premium dollars with 85 percent of employees not meeting their deductibles.

Ward 3 Alderman David Little expressed concern that a policy change might affect city employees who make less money.

“You’re impacting a small amount of people but you’re spending a lot of money that could potentially be spent somewhere else,” Watkins responded. 

Sistrunk explained that the board could change aspects of the health plans that would save the city money without impacting the majority of its employees.

“We want to have as little disturbance as possible for our employees,” Sistrunk said.

Watkins recommends the aldermen consider offering more than one health plan to employees, raising the deductible base plan. This dual option plan would entail the city paying for a base plan to meet the needs of the majority of employees, asking employees who wish for more comprehensive benefits at a higher price to contribute to the cost.

Peggy Yates, accounting executive for McGriffin Insurance, said if the city made no changes to the plan, the next plan year would cost the city a $75,000 increase for the year “Hopefully we can get you into a plan design that can be sustained and not have to discuss major changes,” Yates said.

The board also discussed changes in dental plans.

Yates said few employers currently provide dental coverage.

Even providing partial dental coverage would keep the city’s dental insurance competitive.

“So the question comes, does the city want to continue providing that benefit or do you want to start shifting some of that cost to the employees?” Yates prompted.

Mayor Lynn Spruill voiced favor in providing dental coverage to city employees.

“People underestimate the value of dental health, which can lead to all kinds of other physical ailments,” Spruill said.

Sistrunk emphasized the interdependence of acknowledging the city’s budget and the city’s employees.

“It gets back to offering a benefit that is sustainable to the city and to making incremental changes as opposed to large changes all at once,” Sistrunk said.

Yates said the board might also consider changing its current life insurance policy to save the city money. Any changes in city health insurance would need to be made by late August.

Garbage disposal

The board also discussed current and potential garbage disposal methods with Calvin Ware, department head of Starkville sanitation. One possible change discussed was dispensing of trash bag costs by changing to tip carts for garbage disposal. The city will spend somewhere from $145,000 to $180,000 on bags this year.

Due to the size of tip carts, the aldermen also discussed changing the pick-up schedule from twice a week to once a week. Ware said changing the pick-up schedule to once a week would save the city fuel costs, while allowing the sanitation and landscaping crew more time to focus on other necessities of their job.

“It allows us to pick-up more litter, and we would be working with landscape to make sure we can clean up the intersection,” Ware said.

Sanitation is currently behind on these other activities due to lack of manpower and time.

During the discussion, Little acknowledged garbage disposal to be a “taboo” topic.

“I think Alderman Little is correct in that it will be a contentious item because people get worked up about their trash,” Miller echoed.

However, both Little and Miller agreed that consideration for new methods is worthwhile.

Spruill gave Ware the go-ahead to continue his research so he would be prepared to provide the board with more information at a later date.

Mowing policy

The board briefly discussed adopting a new mowing policy.

If the mowing policy is adopted, Wildflower Trails of Mississippi would help beautify Starkville through wildflowers, while lessening mowing and cost to the city.

“I thought it would be an opportunity to focus on beautification,” Spruill said.

The board will convene again on July 17 at 5:30 p.m