City Council may get an extra benefit next fiscal year that could cost Elizabeth City taxpayers nearly $80,000 a year.

Councilors discussed adding themselves to the city’s insurance plan at its retreat last week, directing city staff to prepare a formal policy for council to vote on.

If councilors approve the policy change, they would then have to vote to approve funding the proposal in the city’s 2020-21 fiscal budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The city currently budgets $8,642 annually for each city employee to cover the cost of their health, dental and vision insurance. The city’s total costs for insuring employees is $2.5 million. The city also pays another $731,500 in insurance costs for retired employees who have not yet reached age 65, when they’re eligible for Medicare coverage.

Each city employee now pays $39 a month in premium costs. Under the proposed policy, council members would pay the same premium.

If council approves the policy, the cost of offering health insurance to all eight members of council and the mayor would be $78,778 next year. However, there most likely would be some eligibility limits that could make that total considerably less.

The policy could only include councilors who are not Medicare eligible and not receiving insurance benefits from their employer. However, the city, which it currently does with employees on Medicare, could pay the $142 monthly Part B Medicare Supplement for councilors over age 65.

Several city councilors asked for a briefing at the retreat on their salary and benefits. City Manager Rich Olson noted in a memo to council that most cities in North Carolina do not offer health insurance to city council members.

“It is doable, but we have to work through a number of legal options associated with this,” Olson said. “When I budget it, and not knowing who is going to be on the council, I would have to budget a liability of $77,778 to cover the whole council.”

If insurance is offered it would mean that council members on the city’s plan would receive twice as much compensation — insurance plus salary — than council members who would not be eligible for city insurance.

Three years ago, City Council voted to give themselves the same cost-of-living pay adjustment that all city employees receive. The last pay adjustment employees received was a 3-percent increase on July 1, 2019. As a result, Mayor Bettie J. Parker is currently paid $9,656 a year while Councilor Johnnie Walton, council’s mayor pro tem, is paid $8,966 annually. The other seven council members each receive $8,274 yearly.

Cities similar to Elizabeth City in population and that own and operate their water, sewer and electric utilities pay their mayors, on average, $9,181, about the same as Elizabeth City. But the pay is less for the mayor pro tem ($6,364) and for council members ($6,153) in cities similar to Elizabeth City.