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City health rates drop

Staff writer

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas representative Tim Oglesby had unexpectedly good news Monday for Marion City Council about new health insurance rates for the city that will kick in March 1.

“A number of things came together for me to be able to deliver a 32 percent decrease in the rates,” Oglesby said. “The benefits are exactly the same, nothing has changed.

“Right now we’re in a very good trend,” Oglesby explained. “The pool, all small employers 50 and under, is doing well, claims usage was quite low, and demographics have improved in the group.”

While the council received the news enthusiastically, Oglesby advised them to plan wisely for the future.

“This is an anomaly — it’s one of those things where you need to be careful about adjusting the budget radically,” Oglesby said. “Yes, it’s a good time to throw confetti, but be very careful what you do as you plan.”

“We do everything we can to promote safety around here, and I hope that is carried on in the training our employees get,” Mayor Mary Olson said.

Oglesby also emphasized the value of wellness exams, both for employee health and cost containment.

“You added preventive benefits paid at 100 percent for wellness exams last year,” Oglesby said. “We will be encouraging them to use those wellness exams, because they’re designed to catch things in the early stages. If we can do that, we’re in better shape for everybody.”

The council approved continuation of the contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and approved a one-year continuation of a 25 percent co-pay of premiums for family members of covered employees.

Electric bill adjustment

City Administrator Doug Kjellin and Al Ash addressed a tentative agreement regarding an excessive electric bill Ash received for 802 Hudson Street that may be due to a faulty meter.

“We moved out of this house on the 15th of October, and this most current electric bill said it used 2,453 kilowatt hours, and there was nobody living in the house,” Ash said. “It seemed a little exorbitant.”

The $259 bill when the house was vacant was more than double the $119 average when the house was occupied, Kjellin said, leading to speculation the meter is faulty.

“We’re having the meter pulled and taken to our wholesaler to have it tested,” Kjellin said.

“We just don’t have a policy for potentially faulty meters. Our system says you have to pay the full charges up front,” Kjellin said.

The council approved a hold on payment of the account without disconnect, until the accuracy of the meter is verified. If the meter is found to be faulty, the bill and fees will be adjusted to reflect estimated average usage.

Kjellin said they will adopt a similar policy for future potential malfunctions.

“I think it’s fair for both parties,” Kjellin said.

“How many guinea pigs have we got on these meters — is this the only one?” council member Bill Holdeman asked. Kjellin confirmed this was the only meter malfunction.

Holdeman asked Kjellin how much additional revenue the city has collected by using the digital meters.

“We don’t have a full year’s data, so right now there’s no way of calculating that,” Kjellin said.

Kjellin described a situation in which an old meter that had been measuring $200 a month usage at one location was replaced by a digital meter, and the monthly usage jumped to $2,000 a month. Records confirmed typical usage averaged between $1,800 and $2,100 per month prior to August 2007, and that the old meter had been malfunctioning for about four years.

“The electromechanical meters couldn’t catch it, but the digital one did,” Kjellin said.

Holdeman appeared to remain skeptical of the digital upgrades.

“I wonder if we were smart to even go to these electrical meters. California’s been having problems with them, too,” Holdeman said.

Library board

County residents living more than three miles outside of Marion are now eligible to serve on the Marion City Library board, after the council passed an ordinance eliminating the distance restriction.

“A lot of out-of-town people do use the library, as county residents they pay taxes for the library,” librarian Janet Marler said in support of the action.

In other business:

  • A proposal by Kjellin to appoint Board of Zoning Appeals members to a new Permit Board of Appeals, required by the 2000 International Building Code adopted by the city, was tabled, pending consultation with zoning appeals board members.
  • A proposal by Kjellin to increase fees for rezoning, conditional use, and zoning variance applications to cover city administrative expenses was tabled. Council member Steve Smith asked Kjellin to compile information about fees in similar-sized cities.
  • Chad Gormley presented a recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve a conditional use permit for the new jail construction for Marion County. The council voted unanimously to approve the permit.
  • The council approved a short-term, month-to-month lease with Triple R Trucking for storage space in the Batt Industrial Park spec building.
  • Olson signed a proclamation designating the week of Feb. 12 as Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America Week. Marion High School FCCLA chapter president Lauren McLinden addressed the council, and FCCLA member Dylan Goebel and advisor Myrta Billings were present for the signing.
  • The council approved warrants in the amount of $203,356, and payroll in the amount of $26,289.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Last modified Feb. 8, 2012

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