A bill up for first reading at last Wednesday night’s board of aldermen meeting could have given Wentzville’s elected officials their second raise in salary in less than a year – a move intended to address inequities created when some aldermen chose not to opt in to the city’s insurance plan.
But, after a brief discussion, Alderman Michael Rhoades, who brought forward the new proposal, asked instead for the bill to be amended to completely eliminate insurance coverage for elected officials, and four aldermen agreed with him.
“I brought this forward in the spirit of compromise,” Rhoades said of the plan, which would have raised the aldermen’s salaries to $13,000 and the mayor’s to $23,000. “I personally don’t believe in benefits for elected officials.”
Alderman Cheryl Kross asked for more information about how the budget would be affected by covering an entire family and not just an individual. Since Wentzville’s insurance plan is self-funded, City Administrator David Gipson said, they can’t predict the draw on the budgeted funds.
“I can’t support this,” Kross said, and referenced the board’s refusal to reduce property taxes at a previous meeting.
“We just had a pay increase,” Mayor Nick Guccione said. “. . . and now we’re going to increase it again?”
Alderman Sonya Shryock mentioned that insurance rates were going up. “That’s one of the reasons I voted for aldermen to opt in,” she said, suggesting that elected officials who receive city insurance can make better decisions about it. “But people won’t support it. It’s another pay raise.”
Shyrock hesitated before finally casting her vote to eliminate the benefits. Linda Wright, who originally voted to approve the benefits, made no comment but also voted for elimination of the benefits. Kross, Rhoades, and Matt Swanson, who have been against benefits for elected officials from the beginning, also voted for elimination.
“Rates will go up, and where will we stop?” Swanson said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
Alderman Rob Hussey was the only vote in opposition.
In November 2015, the mayor broke a tie vote to approve the ordinance allowing the insurance benefits for elected officials, and the board voted to pass the 2016 budget with the necessary funding.
The issue didn’t end there. The benefits became a popular topic on several local political blogs with particular interest in identifying which elected officials took advantage of the city’s insurance plan after the April elections made four elected officials eligible.
At the September 14, 2016 meeting, after numbers comparing compensations became available, the board discussed the inequity created when only one of the four eligible officials opted to take the city’s insurance. It was then that Rhoades proposed the idea of having the cost of insurance deducted from the salary of any official choosing to opt in.