OAKLEY -- Directors of Ironhouse Sanitary District this week agreed to reduce the amount the agency spends on their health benefits and those of future board members.
Following a lengthy debate, the board of the Oakley-based special district voted to establish a two-tiered system that takes effect Nov. 1. It will affect everyone who wins a seat in next month's election.
The impetus for change came from the district's finance subcommittee late last year, said Director Chris Lauritzen, one of its two members.
"It's the right time," he said. "The governor already has said that the benefits to public employees are not sustainable."
Ironhouse Sanitary currently offers dental, vision and, for those participating in its retirement plan, medical benefits.
The district contributes a certain amount toward the cost of those premiums; it also does the same for directors' spouses and dependents.
Under the new arrangement, directors decided that instead of the agency paying up to a specified maximum for the three types of health insurance -- a cap that rises annually -- its contribution will be fixed.
From now on, the district will cover existing directors at 2012 levels; for newcomers, Ironhouse Sanitary will freeze its contribution at whatever their premiums are the year they join the board.
When health care costs go up, all board members will be responsible for picking up the difference.
In addition, the district no longer will offer coverage for the families of new directors, although it will continue to do so for current board members.
Retirement benefits also will change. Although no board members receive dental and vision coverage after they step down, until now they have been able to retain medical benefits if they meet certain length-of-service requirements. The district has covered some or all of their rising premiums up to a cap.
Starting next month, however, current board members will be responsible for the entirety of those premium increases when they retire if they want to keep their medical insurance because Ironhouse Sanitary will freeze its contributions at 2012 levels.
As for new directors, it will be much more difficult to qualify for medical benefits when they leave office. They must have served for at least 28 years and be 65 or older, a requirement intended to exclude most, if not all, future directors. The district will contribute the legal minimum toward the premiums of anyone who does meet those criteria.
Not all directors supported all the changes; board President Doug Hardcastle argued against offering any benefits to incoming members, saying that health coverage shouldn't be the reason a candidate runs for office.
"If they've never had it, they're not going to miss it," said Hardcastle, who doesn't receive medical benefits. "That's kind of cold, but politics is cold."
Another who objects to offering benefits is Michael Burkholder, one of the candidates running for a seat on the board.
"Offering medical is just irresponsible for this board," he said. "Eliminate it completely. It's the right thing to do for the ratepayers."
David Huerta, by contrast, believes this perquisite is an appropriate way to recognize a board member's contribution.
"We've heard from gadflies that you should be proud to serve your community and do it gratis, (but) I think that if a person is doing a good job, there should be compensation," he said.
David Contreras had an in-between view. Health coverage is fine for those serving on the board, he said, but once the job ends, so should the benefits.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.
Here's what Ironhouse Sanitary District currently pays per month for its directors' health benefits. The agency covers 100 percent of their premiums for dental and vision care; it pays for their medical insurance up to a cap of $1,588 per month. Because the medical premiums for the three board members who receive this type of coverage are less than that amount, none pays out of pocket for this benefit, either.
As for benefits in retirement, three of the current directors qualify for lifetime medical benefits -- Doug Hardcastle, Chris Lauritzen and Michael Painter. Few, if any, future board members are expected to meet the new requirements for receiving that coverage.