The Tahlequah City Council approved a benefit renewal for city employees during an Oct. 7 meeting, although it will require higher premiums for the upper-level plan.
Brian Hillier, account executive for Benefit Health Advisor, said he has been meeting with the mayor and Human Resources Director M'Lynn Pape and put together an efficient insurance plan for employees.
"Based off of the utilization of the medical plan, we are exceeding the amount we had in our reserve account for our self-funded program," said Hillier.
Mayor Sue Catron said since the city's health insurance is self-funded, an amount is deposited monthly into a reserve account to pay the claims. She said there was an overdraft in that account when claims from the past few years were gradually pulled out and the account was depleted.
"That $500,000 is not there any longer, and we are going to fund our continued health claims from our general operating account," said Catron.
Hillier said the reserve for health insurance is currently at zero, and he would like to build the reserve back up. He said there are still large ongoing claims.
City employees are currently insured through Meritain Health Inc., and the decision on whether to renew was critical after officials confirmed the city was short on funds.
There were two plans: A and B. Plan A is with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which is fully insured and is self-funded.
"The only thing city councilors should note - and the mayor is very well aware of it, as well as HR - when we do terminate our program, there will be claims that are accrued but not received," said Hillier. "We do need to budget appropriately."
Hillier said Plan B will still be with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, but it will be more affordable. That plan is also self-funded.
"I would like to point out that to take Plan A, the employee cost would go from $25 per month to $50 per month, but if they stay with Plan B, it would stay at $25 per month," said Catron.
Ward 2 City Councilor Dower Combs said he was taking into consideration the city's financial status and which plan is more efficient for most employees.
"As a businessman, and with the situation that we're in, I'd say just go with Plan B - and my experience is, most of the employees are going to want more cash in their pockets," said Combs.
Combs made the motion to offer both Plan A and Plan B, and Ward 4 Councilor Trae Ratliff seconded.
While it was not mentioned or voted on by city councilors during the meeting, City Finance Director Danya Curtis was fired via email earlier this week.
Due to the terminations being an ongoing "personnel issue," Catron said she isn't able to address any specifics.
In August, Curtis - whose salary was $63,718 plus benefits - was put on paid administrative leave by Catron, pending a probe into the city's finances. Catron said concerns about financial records were brought to her attention, but she could not give specific details. She has not addressed those concerns during council meetings.
Last week, councilors approved a "slowdown" on hiring due to recent budget constraints, though they since hired an interim city administrator, Alan Chapman. They have not discussed whether they will choose to hire a new finance director to replace Curtis.
The next Tahlequah City Council meeting is Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.