$3.6M budget shortfall in Independence may call for insurance changes for employees, retirees

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- It's a problem that's been growing for years.

City leaders in Independence report a $3.6 million shortfall in the city's general operating budget. Zach Walker, Independence city manager, said the shortfall isn't related to any particular event or project, but the city has to address it.

Part of the proposed recovery plan includes possible changes to insurance programs for city workers, including those who've retired.

At a recent city council meeting, Walker announced his desire to move all 2,300 people covered by the city's insurance coverage to a new plan, which would save the city millions of dollars.

This change in benefits would affect approximately 1,300 retired police, firefighters and other city employees.

"The annual total savings to the city of $5 million," Walker told FOX4 on Wednesday.

The new plan would shift many city retirees, who are currently dependent on Cigna for coverage to Blue KC. Many of those retirees are also on Medicare and depend on the insurance for supplemental coverage.

Walker said the quality of service wouldn't change for the worse.

"We've found some unique situations where a retiree who's over the age of 65, and they're on Medicare, that they have a spouse who is not yet Medicare eligible, the city would continue to carry the individual on our insurance plan until they reach Medicare eligibility," Walker said.

Retirees aren't as enthusiastic about the potential shift.

Retired Independence Fire Capt. Chris Rohrs said the potential change is unfair.

As it stands, Independence firefighters are eligible to retire with full benefits at age 55. Rohrs said he fears they'd be denied insurance coverage until age 65 under the new plan.

"It's always been 'the sky is falling. We have no money,'" Rohrs told FOX4. "They've never been able to manage their money well. They're always coming to the employees to make up their differences. They're trying to balance the books on the backs of their employees."

Walker said the money the city could save would allow them to hire as many as 30 new police officers. Rohrs said he doesn't see a way employees and retirees can win if this change takes place.

Walker said he's planning a series of informational meetings for current and retired employees. Those sessions are meant for them to learn more about the potential change.

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