COLUMBUS — An Affordable Care Act mandate could cost the city thousands of dollars to provide health insurance for two Columbus Aquatic Center employees, which has one elected official questioning whether the additional expenses are worth paying.
Columbus City Councilman Jim Bulkley said he supports funding recreational facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses and tennis courts.
“But at some point I think you have to have discussions on how much do you have to have,” he added. “Where do you draw the line?”
His comments came during a discussion Tuesday night on whether to extend health insurance coverage to the morning staff at Columbus Aquatic Center.
A provision in the federal Affordable Care Act requires the city to offer health insurance to these employees since they work 40 hours a week. They were previously classified as “temporary” employees and not covered by the city’s health insurance program.
Bulkley’s main beef with the change is that it could force the city to pay a significant amount of money each year to serve only a few swimmers.
According to Public Property Director Doug Moore, the two employees work the morning shift, from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., when an average of about 40 swimmers use the Aquatic Center each day. The city is required to have at least two lifeguards on duty during this time, he said.
If these employees decide to enroll in the health insurance program, it would cost the city an additional $14,000 to $36,000 annually, depending on which plan they select.
Mayor Mike Moser also questioned whether the expense was worth paying given the small number of people using the Aquatic Center during the early morning hours.
He asked Moore if the city could add another employee and reduce the hours from full-time to part-time, which would eliminate the health insurance mandate.
Another option would be to reduce the Aquatic Center’s early morning operating hours, which would allow the city to cut back the current employees’ work schedules.
“We do spend an awful lot of money at the Aquatic Center and we should try in every way to cut expenses as we can,” Moser said.
The problem, Moore said, is it’s already difficult to find employees willing to work the early morning shift.
He said the positions, typically filled by college students, may become less attractive if the hours are reduced.
The city previously paid these employees minimum wage, but bumped the pay up to $9.25 an hour as an added incentive, according to Moore.
“And we still struggle to get people to fill those positions,” he said, adding that the Aquatic Center currently has one staff opening.
Moore also told the council one of the two current employees likely won’t sign up for health insurance coverage because he’s covered by his parents’ plan.
But that wasn’t enough to persuade Bulkley, who admitted his wife has been an early morning swimmer at the Aquatic Center.
“I think that we too easily move forward with these decisions — and none of them are easy,” Bulkley said.
“I’m not sure I can buy into this one,” he added.
Bulkley was the only city council member to vote against the motion to extend health insurance coverage to the employees. The recommendation passed 6-1 with Councilman Ron Bogus absent.
City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli said the topic likely will be revisited after Columbus Community Hospital’s planned health and wellness center is open.
That facility, which will include space for the Columbus Family Y and a pool, could draw swimmers away from the Aquatic Center and decrease the city’s staffing requirements, he said.
In other business, the council:
* authorized the transfer of $2.36 million from the city’s Loup fund to the solid waste fund to provide interim financing for the transfer station construction and approved a lease-purchase agreement with BOK Financial Corporation for additional funding up to $2.47 million for the project.
* extended the deadline for completion of the downtown revitalization project from May 4 to November 4. Mangiamelli said the extension will give downtown property owners additional time to complete improvements already underway and allow others to apply for a portion of the grant funding.
* delayed adoption of the city’s one- and six-year street improvement plans until the March 3 meeting because the agenda item was not posted for the proper number of days.
* authorized city staff to develop a street light installation policy that will be presented to the council for consideration.
* approved an application from Columbus Community Hospital for the preliminary plat of Discoverer Third Addition, one lot near 38th Street and 41st Avenue.
* authorized city staff to advertise for bids for an infrastructure project in the Discoverer Addition. The project, estimated at $2.85 million, involves street paving and the installation of water, sanitary sewer and stormwater sewer services in an area north of 38th Street between 33rd and 48th avenues. The project’s costs will be split between the city, Columbus Public Schools, Columbus Community Hospital and East Central District Health Department.
* created a sidewalk improvement district to repair sidewalks at 753 13th Ave., 1221 Eighth St. and 1322 Eighth St.
* approved the final plat for Riverside Second Addition, 13 lots located near 17th Street west of 48th Avenue, and annexed the property.
* reappointed Rod Supencheck to a three-year term on the Columbus Tree Board and appointed Keith Gilmore to a three-year term on the Columbus Municipal Golf Board.
* purchased a $20,118 John Deere Pro Gator from Van Wall Equipment Inc. of Omaha for Van Berg Park Golf Course.
* continued a public hearing on the final plat for Whitetail Lake Sixth Subdivision until March 3.