While the country’s cities and states are cutting employment benefits, Berkeley City Council members will soon decide whether to set aside taxpayer dollars for city workers to get sex-change operations.
Though the council was initially set to take up the matter Tuesday, officials postponed the vote until Feb. 15. The proposal would permit the city to dole out $20,000 in cash stipends from its general budget to pay for the surgeries – even as a city auditor warns of ballooning employee benefits costs.
A new City Manager's report states that the city has unfunded liabilities — including pension funds, workers' compensation and vacation payouts — totaling as much as $252 million. City auditor Anne Marie Hogan, who authored the report, cautioned that employee benefits for the city’s 1,500 workers represent a rapidly increasing cost to Berkeley and that measures must immediately be taken to lower these expenditures.
And some are questioning why Berkeley would set aside taxpayer dollars for sex-change operations — a procedure not covered by the city’s two insurers — when the cash is needed for much more critical city functions -- like road improvements.
"My neighborhood has severe infrastructure issues, so to pay for someone else’s sex change surgery is a bit off the charts," attorney Ann Slaby, a former Berkeley zoning commissioner, told FoxNews.com.
"Berkeley cannot do what every individual wants; it must act as the major government of a city. Its major obligation should not be to people who work for the city, but to the people who pay taxes."
Berkeley city spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross told FoxNews.com that Tuesday’s resolution — if approved — brings those workers wanting a sex change procedure closer to making it a reality. The city's two insurance providers — Kaiser and Health Net — do not cover sex-change operations.
It would establish the Sex Reassignment Fund, a discretionary fund, in which individuals could get as much as $15,000 before their sex-change surgery and $5,000 post-surgery. The money will be available for city employees on a first-come, first-served basis to pay for one-time expenses.
According to Berkeley’s Sex Reassignment Surgery Policy, to receive the payout, employees would have to have lived as the opposite sex for at least one year and undergone hormone therapy. They also would have to have worked for the city at least a year. Employees can’t have other insurance that covers the procedure, must spend all the money on the sex reassignment and must use the funds within one year of the request.
“In 2007, the council requested us to look into both the cost and matching policy for incorporating sex reassignment surgery into employee benefits. Tonight we’re returning to council with a recommended policy and approach for council and the public’s consideration,” Clunies-Ross said.
Moore told the San Francisco Chronicle in an article published on Tuesday the benefit is what is "just and fair" for the transgender community.
But Slaby wonders if it's just as fair to the taxpaying citizens of the city of Berkeley.
"I have nothing against gender reassignment surgery," she said.
"It’s like okay, $20,000 year doesn’t sound like a lot of money but that’s every year, and I’m fully aware that fixing roads and so forth costs a lot of money, but why aren’t the needs of the people who pay the taxes being met? Especially when safety is an issue."
Slaby added that the burden on Berkeley taxpayers has skyrocketed as the city cedes more and more of its property to the University of California, which is not required to pay the same city taxes, and which has been forcing tax increases to make up for the lost revenue.