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Section A: General News


Obamacare, fire truck fan flames of Stockdale budget




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Wilson County News
July 31, 2013 | 2,929 views | Post a comment

STOCKDALE -- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- continues to confuse employers about how it will be implemented and what it will cost. Questions remain about what can be included in benefits packages for employees and the Stockdale City Council is contemplating whether to continue to provide health insurance or to increase employees’ wages, so employees may purchase their own insurance. Mayor Ray Wolff said the city does not have to furnish health insurance to employees.

Costs for the city’s employees’ premiums are anticipated to increase by 20 percent, or an additional $12,000. Health insurance could amount to $60,000 within the budget, Stockdale City Council members heard July 22, during a budget workshop.

Alternatives discussed include an increase in deductibles and no prescription assistance coverage.

Wolff said there are three levels of insurance available with Obamacare, which will be based on a family’s total income.

According to obamacarefacts.com, the health insurance exchange has four levels -- bronze, silver, gold, and platinum -- with coverage ranging from 60 percent for the bronze level to a high of 90 percent for platinum. For those on the bronze plan, insurance will pay 60 percent of the medical costs, with the remaining 40 percent to be paid by the individual.

The Texas Health Insurance Exchange has subsidies that include refundable tax credits. This is based on the federal poverty level. If a 400-percent federal poverty level is used in this determination, a family of four’s total income may not exceed $92,200 to be eligible for refundable tax credits, known as subsidies.

Fire truck

While the health insurance discussion dominated the workshop, Stockdale Fire Marshal David Rice heated the discussions further, advising that the fire engine used by the Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department will most likely not pass its next certification process. Replacement costs are estimated at between $300,000 and $400,000, with payments calculated at $30,000 annually. The last truck was purchased 15 years ago.

The impact on the city budget could be substantial. Wolff said more tax increases would be hard to sell to taxpayers. Voters recently approved one tax to fund the Emergency Services District (ESD), with an 8-cent to 10-cent ad valorem (property) tax anticipated for the ESD. In addition, the city anticipates an increase in property-tax rates. Another hike to fund the fire engine would be difficult, and could account for another 5 cents in ad valorem tax.

A third increase was approved by voters in May, a one-quarter of 1 percent sales and use tax for the purpose of maintenance and repair of city streets to begin Oct. 1.

Discussion then turned to maintenance of the fire station and other operating expenses associated with the building. Currently, the city budgets $10,000 for equipment and the building. City Manager Banks Akin said maintenance alone amounts to $8,000 to $9,000 yearly.

New equipment -- helmets, pants, boots, and other bunker gear -- comes to $5,000. Funding is a major issue; the fire department raises only about $20,000 from fund-raisers.

Also related to safety, the council considered posting speed limit signs on Wheeler Street, due to excessive speeds being reported. The road is yet unfinished.

Wish list

Prior to the fire truck issue, the council also discussed these budget items:

•A 3-percent pay increase for all city employees.

•A $150 car allowance for the city manager.

•Compensation for the city’s fire marshal, currently an unpaid position. Related fees and permits are estimated to bring $6,000 to $7,000 a year into the city coffers.

•An increase in capital improvements from $30,000 to $50,000, to allow for the purchase of an additional aerator for the water treatment plant.

A special meeting also was held July 22, with only one agenda item.

The council adopted a resolution authorizing a Chapter 380 economic development agreement with Gary West for the development of an 0.85-acre tract off S.H. 123, known as the Birdsong Property. West plans a truck wash associated with the Eagle Ford shale exploration.

Akin said the Chapter 380 agreement allows the city to sell city-owned property for the purpose of economic development and to return the property to the tax rolls. West will pay ad valorem taxes on this property; no tax abatement was given..

In attendance: Mayor Ray Wolff; councilmen Sherry D. Lambeck, Saul Bosquez, and Roger Armstrong; City Manager Banks Akin, and Stockdale Fire Marshal David Rice
 

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