Gilbert Town Council rejects gender-affirming surgery as employee benefit

Aimee Yentes
Council Member Aimee Yentes explains the use of the town's AZCares funding on environmental services, residential and commercial funds. (Screen shot from YouTube)

Council Member Aimee Yentes explains the use of the town's AZCares funding on environmental services, residential and commercial funds. (Screen shot from YouTube)

Gilbert Town Council rejected the addition of gender-affirming surgery to the town's employee benefits package at council’s March 30 meeting.

Council Members Aimee Yentes, Scott September, Scott Anderson and Laurin Hendrix voted against the addition, which Deputy Chief People Officer Kristen Drew said was proposed to keep the town’s benefits package at the industry standard.

The addition was part of an item to approve the town’s medical and dental premiums for fiscal year 2021-22, which included a 3% increase in premiums, but Yentes asked that the gender-affirming surgery benefit be separated out.

“I think those are policies that deviate from other positions we have taken as a community that delve more into social policy rather than strictly providing medical necessary benefits to our employees,” Yentes said.

September said he agreed with Yentes about not asking taxpayers to fund the benefit.

“It‘s contrary to what we have typically done as a town to avoid these social policy issues,” he said.

Hendrix questioned whether not offering the gender-affirming surgery benefit would put the town at any competitive disadvantage in attracting or retaining employees. Drew said no one had ever cited a need for that benefit in declining an employment offer or putting in an application.

Staff’s analysis for council noted the item was to align with standard plan coverages as required by the Affordable Care Act for all fully insured plans. Gilbert is self-insured through a trust.

The analysis also showed Gilbert trailing Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale in offering the benefit.

The town’s plan covers hormone therapy and counseling related to gender dysmorphia, but not the surgery.

Staff proposed the budget include $75,000 for one surgery per year, but added that most years the benefit likely would be unused and therefore of no cost to the town.

Mayor Brigette Peterson, who voted for the benefit, said it was important to stay competitive in the marketplace.

“At some point, it might become an issue,” she said. “It will show that this community is forward-thinking. There are some times when we might have to make the tough decisions that don’t always align with our own thought process to our personal choices or our political choices or our religious choices."

Council did unanimously support the premium increase.

In other items:

  • Council unanimously approved the allocation of $2.5 million to the environmental services residential fund and $200,000 to the environmental services commercial fund from the town’s AZCares Act money. The action was taken to keep the funds falling below the minimum fund balances established by town policy and to forestall a rate increase while the town conducts rate studies. The money was previously set aside for business loans, which have largely gone unused.

  • Council approved on a 5-2 vote an internal loan up to $3 million from the general fund for expenditures associated with the ambulance transportation service startup costs. Yentes and Hendrix, who oppose the town running the service rather than a private provider, voted in dissent.

  • Town Manager Patrick Banger informed council the town expects to receives $24 million from the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act. While no decisions were made, council members discussed possible uses of the money, including: building a proposed family advocacy center rather than doing it from bond dollars, repaying the town’s costs incurred from protests last summer, replenishing funds used for utility write-offs during the pandemic, building a police crime lab and finding a way to return the money to taxpayers.

  • Landowners along the Western Canal, where Gilbert is proposing an eminent domain action ahead of refurbishing infrastructure pipes, again addressed council during the public comment period to ask to find a way to keep their backyards intact.

By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.