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Council OKs benefits for domestic partners

Renovation of city hall also got a green light.

December 19, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST

A health plan that includes benefits for city employees’ domestic partners and a full-scale renovation and addition to the first floor of city hall won the approval of the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

Amendments to the city health plan included several benefit changes, the most significant of which calls for making domestic partners — including those in same-sex relationships — eligible for benefits. The move makes Columbia one of four local governments in the state that offer coverage to same-sex domestic partners.

Margrace Buckler, the city’s director of Human Resources, said the domestic partner benefits will go into effect Feb. 1, giving time for a period of enrollment and informational meetings “to educate them on the plan and tax implications.”

“It’s very important that we attract and retain good employees and anything that can be done to address the needs of the modern work force is probably a good idea,” said Jim Windsor, chairman of the Employee Benefits Committee.

During the council discussion, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser talked about the importance of “fairness and respect at work.” Nauser and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe voiced concern about the possibility of the benefit policy being misused.

The city’s domestic partner contract for employees is modeled after the one used by BJC HealthCare for same-sex partners, Buckler said. Buckler said the contract outlines the consequences of falsifying the document, which include the possibility of losing your job.

Other changes in the medical care plan include an increase from $25 to $30 in the copay for specialist office visits and an increase from $25 to $35 in the copay for urgent care. Both copays are among changes that will save the city about $51,000.

The council also discussed updates to the Daniel Boone City Building, including the first-floor city hall project, which is the first of three phases of a $22 million renovation and expansion project. It will cost an estimated $869,603 and will include demolition of the city-owned Gates-Rader Building on Eighth Street. The city will begin soliciting bids for the project in January.

The first floor of the Boone Building will be home to the Utilities Customer Services and Treasury Management divisions of the Finance Department. The back of the building will have two drive-through payment lanes and a cashier window for walk-up utility customers.

The council also approved a design concept for a forged-steel sculpture and four paintings at the Wabash Station bus depot. Don Asbee is creating the sculpture in the outline of a Wabash Class F-7 808 locomotive, to be outside on the building’s east side.

David Spear is creating four paintings — two depicting the city’s old train station and two depicting the present-day bus depot — that will be hung over the ticket window. The art will illustrate Wabash Station’s 96-year history.

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