February 28, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 9

Petersburg to reconsider TBPA budget request

The Petersburg Borough Assembly is poised to reconsider action it took at their most recent regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in a vote that denied Thomas Bay Power Authority General Manager Paul Southland the ability to extend his budgetary spending for office manager Rhonda Christian’s position.

The Assembly voted 4-3 during that meeting to deny Southland the option to increase his spending under his 2013 budget for the purpose of insuring Christian’s husband.

Christian, who recently got married, insured her spouse under the city’s Blue Cross health plan. As a result of the additional expense of insuring her husband, the budget related to TBPA’s Operations, Supervision and Engineering line items rose to $116,820 – an overage of $6,820.

Southland addressed the Assembly regarding a series of three options available to him: reduce Christian’s hours down from 40 hours per week to 32, authorize TBPA to use money from the ARECA Insurance Exchange to make up the difference, or have the Borough’s split the difference to help fund her position.

Reducing Christian’s hours was a last-resort measure for Southland.

“We felt it was inappropriate to change working conditions for one of our employees to fit within the budget, based on a change in her marital status,” Southland told the Assembly. “The budget was formed when our office manager was (single) and she is married now. Our IBEW contract requires that we cover both the spouse and their mate with health insurance … we build our budget very tight and this took us to a point that was going to take us over that budget. What we are asking for is spending authority beyond $110,000.”

In discussion and debate, Petersburg Municipal Power and Light superintendent Joe Nelson questioned Christian’s marital status as a reason for the increase.

“This is going to be an extra $10,000 out of Petersburg’s budget to fund somebody’s spouse, if I’m understanding this right, because of the increased cost of the insurance?” Nelson asked.

“We’re asking for a total of $10,000 increase in spending authority,” Southland replied. “Half of that would potentially be the Borough of Petersburg’s responsibility … we have $5,821 from other sources that have come into our account. As I understand our ordinance, we derive our spending authority through our two communities, so I am looking for your approval to increase our spending authority.”

The $5,821 amount is related to an insurance rebate returned to TBPA received in January.

Southland originally brought the issue to the TBPA Board of Commissioners during their last meeting and was given unanimous approval to submit a series of options to the Borough Assemblies of both Petersburg and Wrangell, the groups who authorize the TBPA budget each year.

Nelson also added that he thought a reduction in hours for Christian was the most viable option.

“During discussion, before the commission took its vote, we did discuss reducing hours,” Nelson said. “In my opinion, because that money would come out of my power and light budget, yes, they could reduce hours without any major impact to the office.”

Southland replied to that assertion after questioning by the Assembly.

“I can tell you that would be detrimental to our operations and that the Thomas Bay Power Authority Commission felt the same way,” Southland replied.

After a motion to approve the budget amendment was made and seconded, the Assembly voted 4-3 against extending Southland’s spending limits, with Mayor Mark Jensen and members Sue Flint, John Havrilek and Kurt Wohlhueter voting against the plan.

At that point, Hoag, who is a retired attorney, spoke up and asked for a second look.

“Mr. Mayor, I would ask that we have a little more discussion and reconsider this item,” Hoag said. “I am deeply troubled by the fact that, it sounds to me by admission, we are telling Thomas Bay that they have to cut somebody’s hours because they had a change in marital status. I am deeply concerned with the potential of that being challenged legally.”

Mayor Jensen then questioned that request by Hoag, saying, “I don’t know, if you voted on the losing side of the vote, that you can open it up for discussion again. I think it has to come from somebody on the prevailing side.”

The Assembly then took up a plan for reconsideration after a motion by Flint, with a second by Strand. The motion passed 6-1, with Havrilek voting “no.”

That reconsideration will take place during the next Borough Assembly meeting scheduled for March 4.

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