Retired Gulfport City Workers To Take Over Insurance Premiums

Retired employees for the City of Gulfport say they're being dealt a low blow. Starting November first, the city will no longer pay for a portion of their health insurance premiums that allowed many of them to remain on the city's employee insurance plan.

Although city leaders say it's the legal thing to do, many retired employees are shocked.

Ray Walley spent more than 28 years with the Gulfport Fire Department and retired last December as Deputy Fire Chief. But he never felt more burned than he did last weekend from a bombshell dropped in his mailbox.

"I had been under the assumption all these years and told that when you retired you'd be able to take you retirement insurance with you, and that the city would pay a portion of it, and that it was a benefit," Ray Walley said.

But as of November 1st, that benefit will be no more for Walley and all other present and future retired Gulfport city employees. That means Walley's bill will go from $162 to $417 per month.

City leaders say an opinion handed down last year by the state attorney general left them no choice.

"We had no option but to give notice to employees that they would have to pay their full share of the city's expense that the city can no longer bear any of that cost," City Attorney Harry Hewes said.

The Attorney General handed down that opinion on a similar case involving retired city workers in Clarksdale. Even though the council never had to vote on the change, Ward 6 councilman agrees it was the city's only option.

"The state law says we can't do that any more and we must take action. The Mayor was within his executive powers to do that," Councilman Chuck Teston said.

Still, to Ray Willey, it was a cheap shot from out of the blue.

"I think when the city found out about Clarksdale, the City of Gulfport could have wrote in and said, 'Look, we've been giving this all these years. It's considered part of the benefit of retirement. Is it legal for us to now take it away?' I think the opinion would have come back, 'No it's not.'"

Gulfport officials point out that virtually no other city in the state has ever supplemented the health insurance plans of their retired city employees.