Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 18:22
Offers from five carriers pave way for 4% reduction in health-care premium for 2014-15 school year
Earlier this year, Humana informed the Port Washington-Saukville School District it could expect its heath insurance premium to increase 13%— nearly double the 7.5% increase administrators had allowed for in the preliminary 2014-15 budget.
That increase wasn’t necessarily unreasonable, the district’s consultant said, given the district’s claims experience over the last two years and industry trends, but that didn’t mean the district had to accept it.
Humana chipped away at the increase, then earlier this month submitted a bid that instead of increasing the district’s insurance cost would cut it by 2%.
That still wasn’t good enough to retain the district’s business.
On Monday, the Port Washington-Saukville School Board approved a recommendation from its consultant and administrators to drop Humana as its health insurance provider and return to WEA Trust, the company it left two years ago.
The result — a 4% decrease in health insurance costs.
Instead of paying an additional $500,000 for health insurance, the district and its employees, who contribute between 10% and 13% to the premium, will save $176,000 next school year, officials said.
Several factors explain the district’s roller coaster ride through the health insurance industry, including the fact its long-term health risk outlook has improved, but the savings it was able to reap is due primarily to the number of health insurance providers who vied for the district’s $4.4 million of business, Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.
“The market is very competitive right now, and that was advantageous for us,” he said.
Five carriers bid for the district’s business, with four of those companies submitting final bids that offered to cut insurance premiums by between 1.1% and 4%.
Working behind the scenes was Hays Companies, the employee benefit consulting firm the district hired two years ago to oversee its insurance portfolio.
The district pays Hays $25,000 a year, and district officials said the decision to hire a consultant to represent the district’s interest in the complex realm of health insurance has paid off.
“We are looking at several insurance carriers instead of just one, and that’s thanks to Hays,” Supt. Michael Weber told the School Board.
Because the district was able to leverage the competitive nature of the health insurance industry, it did not have to significantly change benefits to save money, officials said. The deductibles will remain at $500 for individual coverage and $1,000 for family coverage, although the maximum out-of-pocket costs for employees will increase from $1,000 and $2,000 for an individual and family, respectively, to $1,500 and $3,000. Office visit co-pays will also increase slightly, from $20 to $25 in network.
WEA Trust sweetened its bid by offering a maximum 8% increase guarantee on a second year of coverage and is giving the district a $25,000 grant to promote employee wellness.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 17:39
Downtown festival with tropical theme will help kick off summer June 13, 14
Area residents are invited to waddle over to Coal Dock Park in Port Washington for a tropical family celebration next month.
Waddlepalooza is the June 13 and 14 festival being organized by Peter and Kris Raymond of the Grafton Blues Association.
It will replace the Port Harbor Family Festival, which the couple organized last year after Pirate Fest was cancelled.
It will also be held one week later than last year’s festival, something the Raymonds hope will help ensure warmer weather.
“Our goal is to create an exciting kick-off to summer,” Kris Raymond said. “We’ll incorporate the Jimmy Buffet atmosphere with leis and tropical hats.”
The festival will include everything tropical, from music and food to games like coconut bowling and hula-hooping, she said. A limbo contest and sand sculpting are other possibilities.
The festival will kick off on Friday, when music will fill the air at Coal Dock Park. The Alex Wilson Band with Jim Liban will perform at 5:30 p.m. followed by The Bel Airs at 8 p.m.
On Saturday, there will be a wine and beer tasting from 2 to 5 p.m.
A family area will provide a variety of children’s activities, such as a bounce house and rock-climbing wall.
A wide variety of foods will be offered as well.
Area nonprofit groups are being invited to set up booths at the festival to help raise funds and awareness of their causes.
An open mic and karaoke stage will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Country music will be heard beginning at 4 p.m. when Smokin Gunz takes the stage.
The Boat Drunks, a tropical rock band that plays everything from original music to Buffet to Van Morrison, will be the headline act, playing at 7 p.m.
“They play stuff everyone knows and loves and sings along to,” Raymond said.
Despite its name, ducks won’t be a big part of Waddlepalooza — at least not this year.
That’s because, even though the organizers intended to hold a rubber duck race in the harbor, they ran into a few snags.
After announcing their intent to hold such an event last fall, the Department of Justice said these races constitute a lottery, which is illegal in Wisconsin, Raymond said.
It was mid-April before Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill making it legal to hold rubber duck races, she said, and by then it was too late to organize the event.
“We’ve been wanting to do a duck race for years,” Raymond said. “It was really a disappointment. But mark my words — next year.”
But the name Waddlepalooza stuck.
“We just love the name. It’s fun,” Raymond said. “Waddle is ducks and palooza just screams fun. We’re telling people to just duck into Port for the festival.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 18:26
Officials say free-spirited sport puts children at risk, has damaged park property
Teenagers and young adults doing parkour — a free-spirited sport in which participants flip, jump and run over, around and through urban areas while performing moves over or on man-made obstacles such as walls and buildings — have been making their mark in Port Washington.
But they’ve been seen plying their sport at Possibility Playground while children play and their parents watch, and that has officials concerned about the safety of youngsters and damage to equipment there.
Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said he’s been told the groups often have a spotter watching for children, but that isn’t enough.
“Kids aren’t so easy to predict,” he said. “All it would take is a little child running in front of them and someone’s going to get hurt, possibly seriously.”
City Administrator Mark Grams concurred, telling the Common Council last week that the teens take over the playground even as toddlers and young children are playing.
“It’s dangerous,” Grams said. “They’re doing it and there are mothers and kids up there.”
They have also caused damage, Grams said, noting that just two weeks ago they broke a slide in the toddler area of the playground.
“We’re probably going to have to eat (the cost),” he told aldermen.
Sue Mayer, general coordinator of Possibility Playground, said she’s been told the playground is popular among parkour enthusiasts in part because its rubberized surface makes landings softer and safer.
The playground was built for young children of all abilities, not for teenagers to jump and pound on, Mayer said.
“It’s amazing what they can do, but these structures are not built for that kind of pounding,” she said. “I’m trying to be respectful of what they’re doing, but it really worries me to have fully grown teens vaulting over our equipment.”
Although she only recently learned what the sport was called, Mayer said, organizers have noticed damage for years that can be attributed, at least in part, to parkour.
That includes damage to the walls and railings, broken chains on climbers intended for children who have limited mobility, and areas where the surface has bubbled due to the excessive use.
One group of parkour enthusiasts posted a video of their time in Port on YouTube, Mayer said, and it was disconcerting to see how the youths took over the playground while children were present and the way they treated the equipment.
“I thought, ‘This can’t continue,’” she said. “There were little kids playing there. If they run into their path, that child could be hurt seriously.
“I understand their feeling of it being art, but at the same time they’re not being respectful of the areas where they’re doing this.”
The slide that was damaged will cost about $900 to replace, not including the cost of installation, Mayer said, adding several adults in the park saw the group that damaged the equipment.
It’s not just Possibility Playground that’s used by parkour enthusiasts. The YouTube video shows a group practicing moves in Rotary Park, jumping over the picnic tables and off the bandshell in Veterans Park, and doing flips on walls and stairway railings along the Harborwalk. It also shows them jumping from the tops of privately owned buildings.
“They call it art, freedom of expression,” City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said. “I call it trespassing.”
Hingiss said he and Eberhardt are looking at drafting up an ordinance to regulate parkour in the city.
Current ordinances would cover some issues, such as trespassing, but may not be adequate to address the issue, he said.
“We’re not looking to issue a bunch of tickets here,” Hingiss said. “I don’t think they intend to hurt anyone or anything. But the potential is there.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 17:54
Possibility that Holiday Inn could lose franchise tag sparks concern, source says
Port Washington officials are so concerned about the future of the Holiday Inn Harborview that they are considering hiring a firm to conduct a marketing study that could be used to attract potential buyers.
In addition to the potential of a change in ownership, the future of the hotel is further clouded by the possibility that it could lose the Holiday Inn brand.
The national hotel chain could lift the franchise if the owners of the Port Washington property do not commit to extensive upgrades by mid-May, according to a source with knowledge of the hotel’s situation.
Having a downtown hotel is important to the city, officials said, noting that it brings business to the area and supports the community’s tourism industry.
The marketing study would look at more than just a potential sale, examining such things as the amenities sought by area travelers and the ideal number of rooms for the city, officials said.
“That’s good data to have,” City Planner Randy Tetzlaff said. “It would give us an idea of what the overall market for hotels here is.”
Information from a study would apply not just to the Harborview but to other lodging operations as well, he added.
The study could be a valuable tool to help prospective buyers feel comfortable with the hotel, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
But the estimated $10,000 to $15,000 cost of a study is significant, and it has some officials wondering whether this is something the city should invest in.
The city’s concerns about the hotel spring in part from the fact that its owners said in February that they are in the early stages of talks to sell the downtown hotel.
The owners cautioned that a sale was not guaranteed and added that there was not an offer on the table.
The hotel, which is assessed at $3.35 million, is owned by Eric Lund and Craig Stark, who were among a group of investors that purchased it from the Smith family in 1998. The two men have since bought out the other investors, Lund said.
Lund is also chief operating officer of S&L Hospitality, which manages the hotel.
He said in February that while the hotel was not being actively marketed, it had been listed for sale in the past with an asking price of about $6.5 million.
The 96-room hotel in the heart of downtown Port has long been a hub for tourists and fishermen, as well as business travelers, and is seen by officials as vital to the health of the downtown.
Lund said that the hotel is “extremely busy” during the summer and fall, and during the winter there is a steady stream of customers.
That is borne out by the fact that last year, the Holiday Inn Harborview brought in about $146,000 in room tax, more than half the city’s total room tax revenue of $254,000.
That money is split between the city and the Tourism Council, which uses the funding to draw travelers to the community.
The hotel franchise is a valuable asset, officials said, noting the Holiday Inn draws visitors and business travelers. The room rates they pay directly correlate to the room tax revenue received by the city.
“The better the rooms, the more the revenue and room tax,” Tetzlaff said.
“I think the owners are doing everything possible to continue the flag (franchise).”
City Administrator Mark Grams said officials are frustrated by a lack of dialog with Lund and Stark, adding they don’t have a lot of definitive information about the status of the hotel.
“The owners aren’t telling us a whole lot,” Grams said. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with the hotel.”
Efforts to meet or talk to the owners have been unsuccessful, he said.
“We’re willing to at least try and talk to the owners, to see if there’s any assistance we can offer,” Grams said.
What form that assistance takes is another question, Grams said.
Tetzlaff said the city could explore the idea of adding the hotel to its tax incremental financing district. The market study, he added, would give the city background needed if this were to occur.
While the city may have little to offer in terms of financial aid, it is willing to help assist in whatever way it can, officials said.
“We’ve jumped into the conversation because it (the hotel) is something we value, but there’s truly only so much we can do,” Mlada said. “We can make a case as a city as to how valuable it is, but in the end, it’s not up to us.”