City of Toledo employees who live with a partner but are not married could soon receive health care and other benefits under legislation to be introduced by Mayor Mike Bell.
Mayor Bell’s office announced the measure late Thursday, which would extend benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, provided they have certified their status with Toledo’s Domestic Partner Registry. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be eligible for benefits under the proposed law.
The mayor plans to introduce the legislation at council’s next agenda review meeting on May 1.
“What we’re trying to do is bring our city, form the standpoint of human resources and affirmative action policies, in line with what’s happening nationally,” Mayor Bell said. “We’re not the first train pulling out of the station here, we’re actually in a way trying to catch up with the policies that make companies and cities competitive in the state of Ohio.”
Other cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, along with Lucas County, the University of Toledo, Owens Corning, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce all offer benefits to domestic partners of employees, according to information provided by the mayor’s office.
Mayor Bell said he had not realized Toledo didn’t offer domestic partner benefits until the nonprofit advocacy group, EqualityToledo Community Action, approached him about the issue just over a month ago. The Domestic Partner Registry, which the previous administration enacted in 2007, allows couples to register their status with the city for a $25 fee, but does not extend any benefits. So far, 167 couples from throughout Toledo have signed on to the registry.
“Seeing as we had already started portions of this process, it just makes sense to complete it,” the mayor said.
EqualityToledo Community Action drafted the legislation with the help of the University of Toledo College of Law, organization president David Mann said. Having such a law would ensure equal treatment for all employees, he said.
“We really think that ultimately this is a mater of fairness,” Mr. Mann said. “It will also send a message, whether you’re a city employee or not, that the city of Toledo is a fair place to live in.”
The announcement immediately met with some scepticism from Toledo city councilmen. George Sarantou said he has many questions about the proposed law, and is concerned it could be too costly for a city that has struggled financially in recent years.
“Cost is always a factor when you’re dealing with a budget,” councilman George Sarantou said. “I want to get the answers. I’m elected by all the citizens of Toledo, and I need to find out all the information I can about any issue. Then I can make an informed decision.”
But Mayor Bell said the cost of providing the additional benefits is not expected to be high. He estimated about 2 percent of the city’s workforce would sign up for the benefits. Employees who qualify will also have to pay more for health care themselves, as expanding a policy to include an additional person raises their premium, he added.
Mr. Mann, who also heads the Lucas County Land Bank, said out of roughly 4,000 employees in Lucas County only about half a dozen people have signed on for domestic partner benefits.
“That’s a small price to pay to make sure you are being fair to your employees, attracting the best talent, and to send a signal to the rest of the community that this is a city that respects” its employees, Mr. Mann said.
Councilman Rob Ludeman, meanwhile, expressed both financial and moral concerns about the proposed law. During his last term, Mr. Ludeman was one of two councilmen who voted against the Domestic Partner Registry.
“A lot of it was my own religious beliefs, but I think I represented a conservative constituency who were opposed to it, gay and straight people,” Mr. Ludeman said.
“I’m sure there’s going to be vocal folk on both sides. It has nothing to do with liking people or not liking people. It has to do with what is government’s role.”
Mayor Bell said the legislation has to do with fairness, not religious or moral beliefs.
“When you’re the mayor, you represent everybody,” the mayor said. “Inside the city we have a lot of different lifestyles. All I’m trying to do is be fair to everybody... I’m trying to adjust our polices to the obvious that’s in front of us right now at this particular time in history.”
Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.