As the Leesburg Town Council readies for the kick-off of its fiscal year 2020 budget review, one item that will be up for consideration will be whether council members’ own compensation and benefit packages should be increased.
At their Monday night work session, council members received a briefing on the fiscal impact of increasing their health insurance benefits through the town. Council members are currently able to participate in the town government’s health insurance program, but there are different premium rates for full-time employees and Town Council members, who have the same rate as part-time employees, according to a staff report.
The item was brought up for consideration by Councilman Josh Thiel.
“I think we can all agree this is a full-time, not a part-time, job,” Thiel said. “If certain members would like to be [considered] full-time through the Town of Leesburg and have the benefit of using the town’s health coverage I think it’s well within reason we ask for that coverage.”
Currently, the town’s contribution toward council members’ health insurance coverage is at $22,440. If council members were to be considered with the same premium rates as full-time employees, the budgetary impact could exceed $100,000. A staff report notes that, under the assumption that the change is made and that all currently participating council members continue to elect the same coverage, and the remaining council members choose to participate in an employee-plus-one plan, that would be an increase of more than $84,000 than what is currently budgeted.
During Monday evening’s discussion, council members weighed in on other potential changes to consider. Vice Mayor Marty Martinez asked that the town staff consider creating a new classification system for elected officials, potentially giving the council access to health care coverage at the full-time employee level, as well as other benefits such as Ida Lee Recreation Center memberships. He also suggested looking at a compensation increase for the council since it has been several years since the monthly stipend was last raised. Martinez suggested looking at a 2 percent increase following each council election.
Councilman Neil Steinberg suggested looking into a more equitable compensation system, where council members could elect to use the additional compensation to buy into the health insurance plan or not.
Mayor Kelly Burk noted that she was “uncomfortable” discussing the topic because of the public perception that council members’ should have understood the time commitment they were signing up for. She also said there are some who may not agree with the council voting to give itself a pay increase, rather than wait until following an election year. The Virginia state code allows a Town Council to establish the compensation to be paid to council members and the mayor, with no increase taking effect during the incumbent council member’s or mayor’s term. However, that restriction does not apply to councils or mayors when the council members are elected for staggered terms, which is the case in Leesburg.
“Whatever way we go on this, there should be public input at the very least,” she said.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler recommended that the council discuss the topic during budget deliberations so, if any changes are made, they would take effect with the rest of the adopted budget July 1.