Gulfport Retirees About To Lose Insurance Contribution - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

10/25/04

Gulfport Retirees About To Lose Insurance Contribution

On paper, Gulfport will save $200,000 by no longer making contributions to the retiree insurance program. Retirees don't think that's fair.

Forty seven people are taking advantage of Gulfport's benefit program. Their insurance payments could triple if the contributions disappear.

Right now, Joe Langenbacker's yearly insurance bill is an affordable $2,148, because the city makes a contribution to its retirees program.

"That in itself was a benefit," the former police officer said. "It was promised years ago that we would have this once you retired."

But a week from now, Gulfport will break a promise it made to Langenbacker and nearly 50 other longtime city workers. The city will stop chipping in for their insurance coverage.

"It was a security blanket because you knew it was going to be there. You knew you would have it," Langenbacker said. "You know this is an issue that affects quite a few people."

Gulfport initially adopted the retirees' insurance package 20 years ago. In fact, minutes from the June, 1984 meeting are now circulating around city hall. The minutes explain how city commissioners decided employees with 20 years of service could buy into a city sponsored insurance program.

Last month, Gulfport city hall received a 2003 Attorney General's opinion. It said the city couldn't pay for those benefits.

Harry Hewes is Gulfport's attorney.

"If it's illegal to fund it," he said, "if we have lacked the authority to fund it, then any plan we pass would not be with legal authority and couldn't be enforceable."

Unless a second AG opinion requested by Hewes arrives with a new legal interpretation, city employees are a week away from losing Gulfport's 20 year old insurance promise.

"Most of them have been retired for some time, and they could obtain other insurance probably cheaper than they could obtain this insurance," said Hewes. "And that's the only alternative I see."

Langenbacker considers this a lose-lose proposition for everybody associated with the city.

"Every one of those people lost a benefit that day that we received that letter," he said, referring to the hundreds or current Gulfport workers, "because they no longer have that insurance package when they retire."

Langenbacker is hoping the city council will wait until March to stop paying into the retirees' insurance program.

"If there is a change that is necessary, give us more time," he said. "While we wait in limbo, let's give us an extension to get either in front of the legislative body and try and get an amendment to this, a grandfather clause or something changed that protects the benefit package of the retirees, and also those that are currently active on the city payroll."

by Brad Kessie

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