Ferndale mayor asks city for family health insurance

Ferndale Mayor Jon Mutchler
Ferndale Mayor Jon Mutchler

Mayor Jon Mutchler is asking the city to pay for health insurance for him and his family.

The request will go before the City Council at its meeting Monday, Feb. 1.

If the council approves, Mutchler and future mayors would be able to buy into Ferndale’s family health coverage at the same rate as the city’s non-unionized employees.

“Some cities our size provide health coverage for their mayors, some cities don’t,” said Mutchler, who was elected mayor in November.

Local governments that provide coverage for their mayor and council include Bellingham and Whatcom County. Burlington and Anacortes do for their mayor. Burlington also allows its City Council members to buy in at a discounted rate, according to Ferndale communications officer Riley Sweeney.

“Our community is growing and with it the responsibilities of the mayor will grow and evolve,” said Mutchler, who also is self-employed as a piano teacher and as pastor of Ferndale Alliance Church. “I have asked that health insurance (be) part of supporting our elected officials, but that decision is not mine to make. It is up to the City Council as a whole. I am just asking them to consider it.”

City Manager Greg Young brought up Mutchler’s request Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the end of the council’s finance and administration committee meeting. The issue wasn’t on the agenda.

“It was an oversight,” Young said. “This was overlooked. We weren’t asking the committee to make a decision. We were just bringing it to their attention first because that’s the standard protocol for the city.”

Mutchler, who was on the City Council before being elected mayor in November, noted that while the matter wasn’t on the agenda, the way it was brought up wasn’t “unusual” and the discussion was recorded like the rest of the committee meeting.

City Councilman Keith Olson was against providing health insurance coverage to the Ferndale mayor, saying officials knew when they were seeking to be elected what their compensation would be.

If the council OKs the request to give family medical coverage to the mayor, the cost for this year would be $1,585 a month. Add vision and dental, and the monthly premium would go up by another $230 a month.

Mutchler would pay the city $105 a month, the same amount as employees.

The mayor makes 90 percent of the average salary for mayors in similarly sized Washington cities, and will earn $1,644 a month in 2016.

During Wednesday’s committee meeting, City Councilman Keith Olson opposed the idea of extending health insurance to the mayor or to City Council members, which was part of the original discussion.

Olson was the only council member at the committee meeting to voice his opposition, saying officials knew the compensation when they were seeking to be elected.

“These are part-time positions. This is just a part-time thing that we’re doing. Granted, it is a lot of hours. These are basically life choices,” said Olson, a retired supervisory federal agent. “I don’t think the taxpayers of the city should foot medical insurance for us if that’s a decision we made in our full-time careers not to have it.”

He also wanted to know why Mutchler didn’t discuss the issue during the run-up to the election.

“The timing stinks,” Olson said. “Why didn’t this come up before?”

Mutchler said he was busy campaigning and, regardless, he didn’t even consider doing so until December, when he was tackling paperwork to renew health insurance through the state’s health exchange. He said the family now has $14,000 out-of-pocket catastrophic health insurance through the exchange, a situation he described as “stressful tension.”

The mayor’s position is part time, although Mutchler said he’s working up to 35 hours a week.

“The job of mayor to some may appear to be a part-time job,” he said, “but it is indeed a full-time responsibility.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Attend the meeting

The Ferndale City Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at the City Hall Annex, 5694 Second Ave.