DEFIANCE - A fight is brewing in Defiance over whether the taxpayers should continue providing health insurance for their city councilmen.
Mayor Robert Armstrong wants to end what he calls an "awful self-serving" benefit that this year has charged councilmen $38 a month for coverage, which if they include their family on the plan - and most do - costs the city about $1,200 a month.
But council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to add a $78,000 line item for its health insurance into the city's more than $38 million budget for next year.
Although Defiance's council is considered part-time, Council President Tim Holtsberry said he considers every elected official to be full-time and city councilmen, he added, are attending more meetings than some other elected officials who are paid considerably more.
Councilmen are paid $4,500 a year as well as retirement benefits and the health insurance, if they choose to use it.
Six of the nine who are eligible, which includes the president of council and council clerk, use the insurance.
Tuesday's motion to budget money for health insurance for council again next year included a clause requiring councilmen who sign onto the plan to pay 10 percent of the cost.
But Mayor Armstrong said that's not enough.
He promises that if the health insurance gets final approval from council, he will use his line-item veto, which would be a first during his three years as mayor.
He said he has received 150 calls in the last two weeks from city residents saying they don't want to pay for council's health insurance.
That's more than he has received on any other issue during his three years in office, he added.
The city started picking up health insurance for councilmen in 2002 in an effort by then-Mayor Fred Schultz to attract good council candidates.
Mr. Holtsberry points out that there have been more contested races for council since the insurance benefit was added.
"So whether they're running for the insurance or not, that's a good question," he said.
Several councilmen are self-employed. Two of the three who do not use the city's insurance are employed by General Motors.
The mayor said he thinks all councilmen should be drawing their health insurance through their jobs.
Over the years, the mayor said, councilmen have opted out of other plans to go on the city's plan.
And that, along with rising insurance costs, has boosted the expense to the city from $27,000 in 2002 to the proposed $78,000 next year, he said.
"I think it would go down big time," he added.
Meanwhile, in a final vote this week, council approved raises for the next four-year mayoral term. The mayor's salary, which is about $50,000 now, will increase by 2.5 percent each of the four years of the new term beginning in 2008.
That ordinance passed 4-2, with Steve Hubbard and Joe Eureste voting no.
Ellen Upp, who abstained, announced at the meeting that she plans to run for mayor. She is a Republican.
Mayor Armstrong, a Democrat, said he will decide next month whether he will seek re-election.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.