Nashville will phase future councilmembers off a sizeable lifetime health care benefit.
The decision gets rid of an expensive perk for members of the Metro Council. The benefit has been criticized repeatedly through the years.
Right now, former councilmembers contribute 25% of their insurance premiums, while taxpayers pay the remaining 75%.
New legislation changes that for future councilmembers after they’ve served. If they complete two terms they’ll pay 25% for two years. Then move to paying half of the premium before they finally pay 75%.
This week an overwhelming majority of council, 34 members to 3, supported the new legislation, though many will be grandfathered in and won’t have to worry about changes to their plans.
Since the 1980s, councilmembers have been getting a sizable health care lifetime benefit. The council unsuccessfully considered scaling it back in 2012, 2015 and 2017.
Last year the benefit cost the city $837,438 dollars for past members ($484,530) and current officials ($352,908).
But the idea to reduce the city’s contribution to health care benefits was almost dead on arrival.
Back in September, Councilmember Tonya Hancock advocated for her colleagues to come back to the table and discuss benefits. “We can not continue to put this off for later,” she said. “We must tighten our belts now and address this issue.”
So a mix of councilmembers and residents were tasked with examining the issue.
Nashville native and Antioch resident Yvonne Currie was one of seven citizens chosen for the Special Committee for Council Benefits committee. She wanted to end councilmembers’ lifetime health care benefits.
“I was very hardcore about it,” she explains to WPLN News.
Currie used to be involved with the Young Democrats and went to school with former Councilmember Ronnie Greer, but she didn’t truly understand the ins and outs of the local government until she got older. Now she reads every bit of The Tennessean and can’t understand how the city finds money for council’s benefits and not other city workers.
“We cannot pay the other essential workers, the firefighters, what they deserve to be paid. But we’re paying these councilpersons who run for a term of four years to a maximum of eight years,” she says. “We’re paying their benefits and those are the benefits of their families for an indefinite period of time?”
But once she learned more about councilmembers being employed part time and that some work full time jobs while juggling marathon meetings and connecting with their districts, her opinion evolved.
“So listening to the councilpersons speak certainly did help me in changing my opinion and my thought process on what the bill should do,” she says.
Nashville councilmembers recently got a $8,100 pay increase but still are lower paid compared to peer cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis.
In addition to this week’s change, the council is considering a bill that would require frequent checkups on council’s compensation package.
But that isn’t the end of the story, a new petition wants Nashville voters’ input before elected officials receive any benefits. It’s up in the air if voters will get to weigh in on that proposal.
Correction: This story originally gave the wrong first name for former Councilmember Ronnie Greer.