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Margate adds domestic partners to taxpayers insurance costs by:

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May 14, 2014

| By Mark Blake

MARGATE - Framed in a variety of ways by elected officials and taxpayers alike, the city commission added an estimated $160,000 to the $5.5 million Margate property owners pay presently to insure city employees yearly. *(Article amended 5-14-2014) __________ Similar to other Broward cities - but unlike private employer counterparts,* the City of Margate pays to insure not only its workers, but its workers’ spouses and children too. In a 3-2 vote Wednesday, city commissioners extended the benefit to include domestic partners and their families.

The average cost to provide a single City worker with healthcare is approximately $10,000 in Margate. From there, coverage costs increase based on workers’ family size and plan. To provide health insurance to police and firefighters alone in the City costs taxpayers a combined $3.1 million annually.** “I think this city has really good benefits for its employees. There are not a lot of places that have as good of benefits that pay for their partners, their married partners and their families,” Margate Mayor, Le Peerman, told commissioners and the public. Peerman, an openly gay Mayor, said the city estimated that five homosexual employees and ten heterosexual employees would participate in the benefit - though no hard numbers exist. Having put the resolution on the agenda, Peerman said personally she would not benefit from it, as she is not enrolled in a city health plan. Notwithstanding, the matter is about fairness to city employees, she said. “We should not be saying you’re more important than you or your family is more important that yours, because we don’t have the same legal standing as you do.” Commissioner, Tommy Ruzzano, said the city should hold off on the benefit. Its fiscal impact down the road is unknown and a domestic partnership does not exhibit the same level of commitment between two people as marriage - whether a couple is gay or straight. Ruzzano suggested waiting for the state to rule on same-sex marriage before offering the benefit. “It’s the taxpayer’s money and I don’t see people rushing up here to do this. We don’t even have actual numbers. We’re given estimates. Five years from now this could escalate to $2 million,” he said - the married father of four adding that he didn’t think granting the benefit is morally right. “What are we telling our kids?” he asked. Ruzzano asked fellow commissioners if anyone from City staff or the public approached them or asked to implement the benefit. The general consensus was no - Peerman telling Ruzzano it wasn’t taxpayers’ place to do that.

“The Margate resident will not be coming up here because it is not their responsibility to tell the city how do deal with their employees ,” she said, adding that if taxpayers tried to tell other government entities like the school board how to treat their employees they wouldn’t get the three minutes the City of Margate allows. When asked if there was support for the domestic partner policy among city staff, Margate City Manager, Jerry Blough, said the policy originates with elected officials - not his office. Despite its fiscal impact on the City, the senior executive said it makes no difference what he thinks on the matter. “The city commission acts as the policy maker for the city. If they feel it’s appropriate, then it’s appropriate. It’s a policy decision for the city commission, not city staff, not the City Manager’s Office,” Blough said. Commissioner Frank Talerico, married with children too, compared the benefit to widowed seniors who lose Social Security benefits when a spouse passes, and who are more likely to live together than remarry. People have been living together for some time, he said, and providing health insurance to the families of unmarried employees is the right thing to do. “We’re treating our employees equally, it’s really simple. And these people applying for these benefits deserve these benefits,” said Talerico. Commissioner Brian Donahue married as well, said the benefit was about accommodating the city’s diverse workforce, and those living alternatively should not be excluded. “It’s time to take a look at all the people who work for us,” he said. Voting no to the policy alongside Ruzzano, Margate Vice Mayor, Joanne Simone, asked to table the matter until existing employee benefits could be looked at further. She said the city’s benefit structure needs an overhaul “before more is [fiscally] added to the pot,” she said. “I believe in first things first.” Simone’s request was defeated 3-2. Margate Chamber of Commerce president, Rick Riccardi, said he saw no difference in marriage vs. domestic partnership and thought the benefit might help attract quality workers to the city by providing benefits for unmarried persons living together with dependents.

Running for Peerman’s Seat 3 in the November election, Margate resident, Eddie DeCristofaro, said criteria in the policy are vague and lenient and open for abuse. He said it isn’t a matter for the city commission but rather one for voters - who ultimately are footing the bill. “They should be the ones to decide this,” he said. In response to comments regarding potentially loose language in the policy, Blough said the Margate domestic partners contract is modeled after others in Florida. Employees who fraudulently file for domestic partnerships risk termination from the City. Signed up alongside DeCristofaro to run against Peerman in the November election, Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, confirmed with Blough that no one from city labor unions asked for the domestic partner benefit in labor contracts. Caggiano debunked the policy as one of equality or morality. “This isn’t a question of who is more important than who; this is a question of dollars and cents,” he said. Caggiano said the city has no idea how many people will apply for the benefit now or in the future. “What if there are 20, 30 or 40 single people working in the city and they all go for this? I don’t think that $10,000 is an insignificant amount of money for somebody that’ been living with someone for a year,” he said. To apply for the benefit, domestic partners must live together exclusively for a year. Margate resident, Michael Sirjue, said the policy sounds like it’s a matter of equality and levels the playing field for minority lifestyles. He agreed with Ruzzano that it was an issue of morality - but in a different light. Sirjue lauded the policy’s tolerance and inclusiveness. “We want equality. We want people with different lifestyles,” he said. “This is an issue of accepting difference.” Framing the policy as a conflict of interest, Margate resident Scott Yardley, told Peerman she should not be voting on the matter. “If not for your direct conflict of interest, for your political and moral bias,” Yardley said.

Because the measure could potentially benefit every city commissioner, it should go before voters, Yardley insisted. This, to avoid commissioners providing themselves benefits at the expense of taxpayers. “We did not bring you up here to pad your benefits. We brought you up here to represent us,” adding that the commission is attempting to charge taxpayers for benefits “no one asked for.” Margate resident, Rich Popovic - a fiscal conservative, said it’s not about the money for him - it’s a moral issue. As a taxpayer he said he doesn’t want to pay for same sex couples having sex or shacking up. He described the policy as one that promotes “indecency and perverted living” and “not being responsible in your personal relationship.” “This is to chip away at marriage. That’s what this is,” he said. “I find it disheartening that people have such disrespect for the institution of marriage and what it actually means.” Jack Shiffrel from the Margate Democratic Club said if commissioners believe in the country’s founding tenet that all men are created equal, then people should not be penalized for thinking or living a “little differently than others.” “You don’t make exceptions for something you don’t like. It’s the wrong way to go,” Shiffrel said, then encouraged Simone to vote in favor of the policy since her motion to table it was defeated. Prior to the polling of commissioners for their decision on the policy, Simone explained why she was a no vote. “It’s not up to me to tell someone how to live their life or what to do with their life. I do believe you should have the right to take care of those you love. I do know that there are other ways for people to be covered for hospital and medical benefits other than this. Trying to be fiscally responsible I think that the way the city does their health insurance benefits right now needs an overhaul. And because I feel that it needs an overhaul I would like to see - as I stated before - this overhaul be done before this decision is made.” _______________ **City Budget

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