CONCORD -- Taking aim at an unpopular perk, city leaders on Tuesday took the first step to limit lifetime retiree health coverage for elected officials.
Under the proposal, the city would create a new employee group for future council members and city treasurers who would have to serve at least 30 consecutive years in office with the city and retire at age 65 or older to be eligible for lifetime medical benefits. Members of this group also would not receive pension benefits through the California Public Employees Retirement System, known as CalPERS.
The changes would apply only to future elected officials, not existing or retired office holders. Currently, council members are treated the same way as other city employees and are eligible to receive lifetime retiree health coverage after five years in office if they are at least 50 or 52 when they retire from the city.
On Tuesday, the council directed city staffers to work with CalPERS to draft a contract amendment establishing the secondary employee group. The council is scheduled to review that amendment in September.
Retired City Clerk Lynnet Keihl and retired council members Helen Allen, William McManigal and Michael Pastrick receive health coverage through the city at an annual cost to the city of about $29,000.
Among current council members, Dan Helix and Laura Hoffmeister -- who has health coverage through her job as assistant to the city manager in Clayton -- have waived health benefits from Concord, according to Laura Brunson, the city's human resources director. In June, Mayor Tim Grayson appointed the duo to a committee to review the retiree health benefit.
Although council members wanted to eliminate health coverage for retired elected officials altogether, they were hamstrung by restrictions imposed by CalPERS and the Public Employees' Medical And Hospital Care Act, according to Scott Johnson, assistant city manager. However, Johnson acknowledged it's unlikely any elected official will serve 30 consecutive years.
"This perk is over -- we have ended this perk," Helix declared. "We did everything that was legally possible for us to do."
Since 1998, Concord has contracted with CalPERS to provide employee health coverage. Since CalPERS defines elected officials as employees and requires that the city provide medical benefits to retirees, Concord may limit -- but not eliminate -- coverage for retired elected officials, Johnson said.
Once implemented, the new policy won't apply to the five current council members nor will any future elected official be subject to the restrictions if she has participated in CalPERS before.
"CalPERS was real clear to us that once in PERS, always in PERS," Johnson said.
Terry Kremin, a former city council candidate and vocal critic of the lifetime health coverage perk, urged council members to sign a contract promising to refuse the benefit at the end of their terms. Although such an agreement probably isn't legally enforceable, Councilman Edi Birsan promised to sign if Kremin drafts a contract.
Council members receive an annual stipend of $15,600, and the elected treasurer gets $7,200. Although elected officials' eligibility for retirement benefits has received less attention than the lifetime health coverage, eliminating pensions for future elected officials would save the city up to $8,200 annually at the current employer contribution rate.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.