EDITORIAL: Benefits are money better spent elsewhere

Should Penticton city council have a health and dental plan at all?

On the same night they decided $22,000 was too much money to remove from the electrical utility in aid of the city’s least financially well off, council decided Penticton taxpayers should foot half the bill of providing them with an extended health and dental plan.

The fifty-fifty cost sharing was a compromise between a minority of councillors who felt 25 per cent would be enough, and others who said taxpayers should foot the whole $14,375 annual bill.

Paying 100 per cent might have left the taxpayers on the hook for just over $57,500 over the course of four years. Splitting it 50-50 means each side is out of pocket up to $28,750.

But should council have a health and dental plan at all?

According to research by city staff, it’s a mixed bag in the 30 similar cities they reviewed. Most of the 10 cities with part-time mayors didn’t provide extended health and dental, while those with full-time mayors, mostly in the Lower Mainland, did.

The research didn’t specify how the costs were shared in those communities.

But the sense around the council table March 19 was that councillors were entitled to a bit extra, since their honorariums were only $20,000 per year and they were making a significant time investment.

“I think this little bit of something is appropriate,” said Judy Sentes. According to the latest Statement of Financial Information available, Sentes received $21,253.72 in 2013 plus $4,986.33 in expenses.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit pointed out that many of the councillors are self-employed and don’t have an extended health package from another job. That is a problem all self-employed people have.

As council has so often decided in other cases, this is money that could be better spent elsewhere, like lessening the excessively punitive electrical disconnect-reconnect charges.