The Churubusco Town Council convened a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15, during which members voted for a 2019 wage freeze and considered a new health insurance plan for town employees.

During the meeting, the council broached the subject of the 2019 salary ordinance. Council member Bruce Johnson made it clear that he was in favor of a wage freeze for 2019.

“I just looked at what they’re making versus other towns and we’re way above almost every corporation and town in our area,” Johnson said. “We are down on the money we’re getting back to us so I say one year let’s not give an increase.”

Council President Frank Kessler was less vocal, but did express his support for offering a raise in 2019, noting that although salaries for Churubusco town employees were higher than those of employees in surrounding towns, that was one of the reasons Churubusco experienced less turnover.

Council member Mark Pepple was somewhere in between Johnson and Kessler, admitting that he saw the increase as more of a “cost-of-living adjustment,” as opposed to a raise. He expressed concern that this decision to freeze wages for one year could easily turn into two or three years.

Pepple also argued that if the town was going to freeze wages to save money, then the town should also delay hiring a town manager.

“If we’re going to have a conversation that we can’t afford a 2 percent raise, then how can we afford a town manager?” Pepple said.

In the end, the wage freeze was approved by a 2-1 vote with Kessler as the opposing vote. This aspect will be incorporated into the 2019 Salary Ordinance, which will be approved by the council at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Steve Strantz, a benefits consultant from R&R Benefits Risk Management LLC in South Bend, went before the board to explain alternatives to the town’s current employee health insurance plan. This new plan from Physicians Health Plan proposed by Strantz would use a health savings account.

With this model, not only would employees be able to contribute money to the account, but the town would be able to contribute a decent amount of money to each employee to help cover costs which, Strantz explained, would likely garner a positive reaction from employees and even help with employee retention.

Clerk-Treasurer Madalyn Bartl assured the council that through the money they’d save by switching to this new insurance plan and other funding options, they would have enough money to contribute money to employee HSAs come Jan. 1.

Another part of the plan proposed by Strantz would also allow the town to reimburse employees who qualify and opt to go on Medicare as opposed to using their employer’s insurance. If the three current employees of the town who qualify for Medicare opt for this model, Bartl estimated it could save the town around $10,000.

“It’s a win for the employer and a win for the employees,” Strantz said. “It’s so attractive they can’t turn it down.”

The council openly expressed its support for such a plan, with Kessler saying that this aspect of the insurance plan was a “no-brainer.”

Johnson and Pepple agreed with Kessler and saw the entire plan laid out by Strantz as an ideal solution. That being said, Pepple stated that before they officially approved this plan, he would like to run it by Town Attorney Ron Felger.

The council ended up voting 3-0 to designate Strantz as their agent, but chose to table voting on the adoption of the insurance plan until the Dec. 5 meeting.