The commission's vote followed a report by Karen Lukhaub, Lakeland director of risk management, outlining the projected impacts to the city's budget associated with extending spousal health benefits to domestic partnerships. According to Ms. Lukhaub's report, offering the benefits to same-sex domestic partnerships would have cost the city between $25,000 and $40,000 per year. Offering the benefits to all domestic partnerships—including heterosexual partnerships—would have cost between $105,000 and $160,000 annually, Ms. Lukhaub told the commission.
According to its most recent financial statement, the city's $21.5 million self-insurance fund—which covers health care, workers compensation, general liability, fleet automotive and prescription claims—posted an operating deficit of more than $3 million in 2011.
Mayor Fields and five other city commissioners did not return requests for comment.
City commissioner Don Selvage, who voted in favor of the benefits extension, said in an email that he understood his colleagues' concerns over adding additional costs to the city's budget, but that he believed the city had a broader moral obligation to its employees.
“I see the matter as one of fairness to all city employees,” Mr. Selvage said. “To deny them benefits in my view constitutes workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The commission did not directly address the proposed benefits extension during its televised meeting the following Monday. During the portion of the meeting set aside for public comments, one resident took the commission to task for abandoning the proposed benefits extension.
“When we take rights away from people, is that America?” Lakeland resident Patrick Jones said. “It doesn’t say anywhere on the American flag that if you’re in the LGBT community and you pay your taxes, that’s cool, but we’re not going to give you any benefits.”