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City of Columbus projecting additional deficit due to rising healthcare costs

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

The City of Columbus reported an additional 2-million-dollar deficit in the city's budget at the City Council Work Session on Monday. This comes on the heels of a 1.8 million dollar shortfall from the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office, making the total deficit nearly 4 million dollars.

The city says the projected shortfall is because of the rise in healthcare costs. The city announced proposed changes at the work session to balance the budget. It includes increasing premiums and lowering the level of coverage for city employees. Several councilors raised concerns about the proposed changes.

"I understand that the city budget is tight, I understand that health insurance is going up, but I also think there are ways that we can address this issue that have not been put into place so the employees won't see an increase," says City Councilor Judy Thomas.

Other council members support the changes. Councilor Mike Baker says what's proposed is reasonable because they reflect the same healthcare changes in the private sector.

The city says another option to reduce the deficit is to have more city employees come to new Government Health & Wellness Center. They say the more employees they have enroll in the program, the more the city will save in health expenses.

"It looks like the option we've provided to help lessen any impact on employees is the Wellness Center," says Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. "We're hoping as the months go on, fewer employees will be enrolled in the other plans so there won't be these other types of costs that we're having to talk about right now."

Since the Wellness Center opened in April, about 50% of the eligible city employees are participating. When the facility opened in April, the city set a 90% quota.

"We've got a-ways to go but we've got a marketing plan going on to keep everyone to the wellness center that's going to save the taxpayers and that's going to save the employees."

Monday's meeting was a work session, so there was no vote on the proposed changes, but the council did ask City Manager Isaiah Hugley to come back with more options for them to consider. Councilor Thomas also said she will look through the proposal and try to come up with a better option as well.

The board will vote on the proposed changes within the next 30 days.

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