Budget, homeless on council agenda

Ashland also is considering self-insurance

ASHLAND — The City Council will tackle homeless issues, adopt a two-year city budget and decide whether the city should cover health insurance costs for its own employees rather than paying an outside insurance company to provide coverage.

The council meets at 7 tonight in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

On the homelessness front, councilors will hear a report from the Ashland Homelessness Steering Committee about an effort from January through April to provide overnight shelter in a city building.

Members of faith groups, along with other volunteers, had partnered with the city to provide the shelter in a city-owned building.

Councilors will discuss the possibility of supporting a winter shelter again next winter.

Also tonight, councilors will decide whether to award grant funding for a nonprofit group to begin operating a help center in town that would aid homeless people and others in need, either directly or by referring them to other services.

ACCESS, a long-established Medford-based social services organization, has submitted a proposal to run a center operated out of a mobile vehicle.

Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland, which formed in 2012, has proposed leasing a building to operate a center from a fixed location.

A proposed city government budget allocates $100,000 spread over two years for a help center.

On Tuesday, the council also will consider adopting a $202.1 million two-year budget that keeps city property tax rates flat but includes sewer, water, storm drain and street fee increases.

In a move to rein in escalating health insurance costs, councilors will consider whether the city should begin a self-insurance health insurance plan for city workers.

If the city continues to buy health insurance coverage from an insurance company, premiums would increase by 10 percent, costing the city an additional $400,000.

The self-insurance model could keep health care spending flat for the city, according to a city staff memo to councilors.

"In a self-insurance plan, the self-insured entity establishes a separate account from which it directly pays medical, dental and vision claims, rather than paying a premium to a health insurance company that pays those claims," the memo said.

The city would still buy a type of insurance that would cover catastrophic claims, the memo said.

Locally, other large organizations that have moved to a self-insurance model include Ashland Community Hospital and the Ashland School District.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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