Toledo City Council is set to vote today on a plan to extend health care and other benefits to domestic partners of city employees.
But before they do, the body will be asked to consider at least two amendments to the plan put forward by Mayor Mike Bell.
Councilman George Sarantou, who expressed strong reservations about the original ordinance last week, said Monday that he and colleague Rob Ludeman want to confine any new access to benefits to partners in same-sex relationships.
As it is currently worded, the legislation would allow partners of city employees in same-sex or unmarried heterosexual relationships to apply for health care, dental, life insurance and other benefits through the city.
Mr. Sarantou said the amendment will help curtail the projected cost of the legislation to the city and is also fair. Unlike heterosexual couples, same-sex partners are prohibited from marrying and therefore have no other way to obtain the benefits, he said.
"Same-sex couples do not have the option of getting married under Ohio law," the councilman said. "The fact is, opposite-sex couples do have that option if they are in a committed relationship."
Lucas County government also offers domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples only, the councilman said. Toledo officials have held Lucas County up as an example during the debate in council over the proposed legislation.
Mr. Sarantou also questioned the city's projection of how much offering domestic-partner benefits would cost. Last week, Ellen Grachek, director of human resources, said the maximum cost to the city would be about $410,000 a year in additional health premiums, and probably much less.
Mr. Sarantou said Monday that his own research found the cost of the policy change could be up to $1.4 million if benefits are extended to same-sex and heterosexual couples.
"We feel that financially that is a huge number, far over and above the number the administration presented to us," he said. "By opening it up to heterosexual couples it becomes tremendously more expensive."
But city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said the administration stands by its numbers, which are based on the experience of other entities with domestic-partner benefit policies.
In those entities, she said, very few couples took advantage of the plan. In Lucas County, four employees out of a work force of about 4,000 have enrolled a partner for benefits.
Ms. Sorgenfrei said the proposed amendment also runs contrary to what the administration is trying to achieve with the policy change.
"If you offer to one group, you have to offer to the other group," she said. "To separate out heterosexual from same-sex couples I think negates the entire philosophy of being equal in the provision of benefits to our employees."
David Mann, president of Equality Toledo Community Action, which drafted and lobbied for the legislation, said his organization would prefer health benefits be extended to all couples but would still find it acceptable if only same-sex partners are included in the policy change.
"If council wishes to extend it to just couples in same-sex relationships, that's a step in the right direction," he said. "It would mean health benefits and fairness to those employees in a way that they've never had before."
Meanwhile, Councilman D. Michael Collins said he plans to propose his own amendment requiring the city to reopen contract negotiations with the city's main firefighters union, Local 92, to discuss contributions to its medical-coverage plan. The union has its own fund that the city pays into.
The plan could be put under duress if Local 92 extends benefits to domestic partners, Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins said the city should have told Local 92 during negotiations with the union earlier this year that it was considering domestic-partner benefits.
Local 92 can decide for itself whether it wants to extend benefits to domestic partners, Ms. Sorgenfrei said. The amount the city now pays per Local 92 member is commensurate with the sum set aside for other city workers, she added.
"I can't see the economic benefit to paying Local 92 more than we pay for other city employees," she said.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.