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County considering domestic partner benefits

9/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County is considering extending health insurance to domestic partners of county employees.

During its Sept. 9 meeting, County Council’s Personnel and Intergovernmental Committee recommended Council adopt an ordinance that would amend certain sections of the county’s codified ordinances to provide the benefits for domestic partners, as well as more clearly indicate they are available for spouses and dependents.

Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry, said the main reason for the change is that benefits for domestic partners are becoming more commonly available for employees in both the public and private sectors.

He added that 422 of the companies on the Fortune 1000 list offer health benefits to domestic partners, including Wal-Mart.

In the public sector, Dodson said Kent State University, Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland and Franklin County offer health coverage to domestic partners.

Dodson also said the county doesn’t know how many people might be added to the county’s health care rolls if the change is made, but a consultant estimated the county could see anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 in additional costs. The county’s health care costs are at about $31.5 million, Dodson added.

Councilman Bill Roemer (R-at large) confirmed with Dodson that the benefits in Summit County would be available to both same sex and opposite sex domestic partners, while Cuyahoga County offered the benefits to only same-sex partners.

Councilwoman Gloria Rodgers (R-District 3) raised questions about the morality of extending benefits to couples that aren’t married.

“I have a problem with us devaluing marriage,” she said. “As a government agency, we need to be careful what we do.”

Other Council members said they support the idea. Pry and the nine Democrats on Council sponsored the legislation.

“If we’re going to talk about moral issues, this is about strengthening families,” said Sandra Kurt (D-at large).

Dodson said another reason for the ordinance is consistency, as the county has already allowed employees to use sick leave to care for ill family members, including domestic partners.

Should the benefits be extended, Dodson said couples would be required to sign a legally binding affidavit to prove that they are in a relationship.

Also Monday, Council took the first step toward forming a current Charter Review Commission.

Council’s Personnel Committee recommended Council adopt a motion appointing Patrick Darrow, Richard Dobbins, Laraine Duncan, Daniel Flowers, Helen Humphrys, Kyle Kutuchief, Angelina Milo, Carmen Roberto and Cazzell Smith to the commission.

County Council will meet Sept. 16 at 4:30 p.m. for caucus, followed by a regular meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, located at 175 S. Main St.

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