Pensions merger, sharing of cost of health care backed for Columbia

February 25, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

A budget advisory committee is recommending that the Columbia Association consider requiring employees to pay for part of their health benefits and merging its two pension plans.

The report also says the nonprofit association, which manages recreational and community programs for the unincorporated city of 73,000, should have more control over the way Columbia's 10 villages spend association money.

The report by the five-member Budget Committee, a volunteer group which advises the Columbia Council, is scheduled to be reviewed tonight at a council work session.

The 14-page report calls for close scrutiny of the health care plan, the reporting requirements for grants given to village boards, the apparent use of CA land management workers for activities not controlled by the association and the way the association reports how its money is issued to outside organizations.

With health coverage expenses expected to rise 9 percent in the fiscal year that begins May 1, the Budget Committee says the association's policy of paying 100 percent of employees' basic coverage costs needs to be modified.

"This is an expenditure that needs to be controlled through considering other health insurance plans and requiring employees to pay a portion of the cost . . . particularly for the difference between individual and family coverage. It is highly unusual not to have the employees share in the cost of their health coverage these days," the report says.

The committee also recommends a survey of similar-sized companies in the region to determine a local standard for employee contributions to medical plans, and that the association consider merging its two pension plans to trim administrative costs.

Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy, who refused to comment about specifics of the report, said the association actually has one pension plan with two different components and that CA already has been studying ways they might be merged.

The committee says that pension plan forfeitures and worker's compensation plan credits should not be credited in the budget against personnel costs, as they are now.

If the credits -- amounting to an estimated $1.4 million next year -- were removed, personnel costs in next year's budget would show an increase of 4.3 percent, not the 3.4 percent indicated in the proposed budget, the report states.

The committee also criticizes the lack of tight financial accounting to ensure that annual grants issued by the Columbia Association to the city's 10 village boards are not abused. The grants, used for village center operating costs and village community programs, will total more than $2 million next year.

"The only entity to which the villages are accountable for their budgets are their respective village boards, which have a vested interest in spending as much money as possible in their own village," the report states.

The reports says that although three committee members are certified public accountants, comparing one village's financial report to another proved difficult.

The report recommends that the council adopt a standardized financial reporting form for the grants and that village reports be reviewed at least annually by the council.

The report also finds fault with the association for lax accounting of money given to outside organizations. The report cites review of money issued to one organization, the Festival of the Arts. The group received a total of more than $69,000, but that money was scattered in the association's budget under four different line items.

The committee recommends that the council request from CA an itemized list of outside organizations that receive money, and roster of the directors of each organization to ensure that no conflict of interests exist with CA staff members.

The report also recommends that the council consider four other changes in policy or spending that could save money. They are:

* Dropping a program to to erect signs along the city's pathways.

* Dropping mass mailings of the association newsletter, Columbia Currents. The committee suggests the newsletter is not needed, considering the coverage the city receives from area newspapers.

* Planting ground covers on selected open space areas as a way to pare back on the city's grass mowing and care expenses.

* Upgrading CA's computer system for more efficient data and communications processing.

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