WILKES-BARRE — While the cost of medical insurance decreases for most employees next year in the revised $49.4 million balanced budget proposed by Mayor Tony George, his plan is among those that cost more.
The budget, which still has to be approved by city council before year’s end, contains a $27,909 expense for medical insurance for the mayor’s office. That’s $2,791 more than the $25,118 it cost in the mayor’s original 2018 budget.
The higher cost is due adjustments from Highmark and the type of plan selected through the city’s health insurance provider, the mayor said. Highmark offers a Health Maintenance Organization plan and a more flexible Preferred Provider Organization plan that allows people to go outside the network of designated doctors and hospitals at an added cost.
“The PPO’s a little more expensive,” George said. “And I pay the 10 percent copay.”
George, 66, said he’s eligible for Medicare and but has husband and spouse coverage through Highmark.
City Administrator Ted Wampole added the revised budget reflects the medical insurance cost adjustments made after the mayor presented his $49.2 million balanced budget in October.
“Anybody with a PPO would see those adjustments,” Wampole said.
For instance, the cost of medical insurance for the fire department increases by $137,822 to approximately $1.5 million in the revised budget. Likewise, insurance for the human resources department goes up by $8,191 to $29,762.
But for the most part, the budget contains reductions for those under the HMO, such as:
• $1,537 for city council to $9,768.
• $8,440 for police administration to $74,003.
• $78,417 for waste collection in the Department of Public Works to $530,305.
• $43 for purchasing to $1,053.
The adjustments contribute to the overall $165,949 increase in the revised budget that does not contain a property tax hike. The mayor froze wages for most of the employees, but not for the police department whose members will receive a 3 percent pay hike in 2018 and 2019 in accordance with their contract. He also proposed raising the garbage and parking meter fees to balance the budget.
Council on Tuesday approved the garbage fee increase that raises the price of city-issued bags to $2.60 from $2 for a 30-gallon bag and to $1.85 from $1.25 for a 15-gallon bag. The mayor abandoned his proposed switch to a sticker program — $2.50 per sticker — after council showed no support for it.
The higher bag fees are projected to bring in $1.6 million in revenue, an increase of $426,800 from this year’s budgeted figure of $1.2 million.
Still pending is council’s approval of doubling the hourly meter rate to $2. The first of two readings of the ordinance on the higher meter fee was approved at Tuesday night’s council meeting. It is expected to pass at the Dec. 7 meeting and go into effect 10 days later to raise $1 million in revenue, $475,000 more than this year’s projected amount.