Monthly Archives: February 2006

Wal-Mart unveils plans to expand health benefits

Wal-Mart plans to expand its $11-a-month health care plan to at least half its employees by next year. That plan costs less than half the price of Wal-Mart's other coverage plans, is available only in certain stores and is the result of special deals with medical providers.Additionally, the company said it will shorten the time it takes for part-time workers to qualify for coverage, and will expand those benefits to include their children for 30 cents more per day.

Currently, part-time workers must work two years before qualifying for benefits, and their children are not eligible.

Maryland recently became the first state to require Wal-Mart to
increase its health care spending or pay the difference to the state's
Medicaid fund. The law is being challenged by the Retail Industry
Leaders Association. At least 22 states, including Colorado, are considering similar bills.

Wal-Mart is Colorado and the nation's largest private employer (over 1 million employees).

Read the full article in the Denver Post

Quote of note – Health care

"The soaring cost of health care in America cannot be sustained over the long term by any business that offers health benefits to its employees."

Wal-Mart chief executive Lee Scott
Annual meeting of the National Governors Association

Read full article in Denver Post
Read text of speech

Cost of living in Aspen 300 percent higher than the national average

A new study, based on a data collected by the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association and the city of Aspen, shows that the cost of living in Aspen is more than 300 percent higher than the national average. The study takes into account prices for groceries, housing, utilities, health care, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services.

Housing was by far the greatest expense in Aspen, with costs soaring 951 percent above the national average.That figure was decreased significantly for residents of Aspen's subsidized employee housing, although their housing cost was still 23 percent above the national average and their overall cost of living 32.75 percent higher than the rest of the country.

Aspen's cost of living was about 42 percent higher than Vail's, 156 percent higher than Breckenridge's and 206 percent greater than Steamboat Springs.

As the cost of living in Aspen continues to rise, a community where a permanent, year-round workforce can afford to live becomes increasinly difficult to maintain.

"The critical element to solving the [housing] problem is recognizing the cost," said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. "It really has to do with the outside demand for real estate, which you can't control. A larger number of baby boomers have more money and are more inclined to buy second homes, and all that demand pushes up real estate costs. So you don't fix the problem by saying, 'Let's build more housing, then the price will go down.' There are more baby boomers out there than we can feed."

Instead, Ireland points to Aspen's affordable housing program as a successful system that gives the local non-millionaires a way to buy a home.

"That has put a damper on price increase and made some opportunities for people to stay here who we would have otherwise lost," explained Ireland.

Read the full article in the Aspen Daily News

The Steamboat Springs adopts inclusionary zoning

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved an inclusionary zoning ordinance requiring developers in most areas of the city to make 15 percent of residential units affordable.The affordability of the units will come from a deed restriction based on Routt County's annual median income, which was last calculated at $72,700 for a family of four. Affordable units would go to families making 60 percent to 120 percent of the AMI, with an income average of 90 percent.

There is also the option of developers paying a fee in lieu of providing the units at the discretion of the City Council.

The Council will discuss a "no net loss" provision that would require that redevelopments replace demolished affordable units in the coming months.

Read the full article in the Steamboar Pilot

Garfield County a seller’s market

Many locals know the challenges of finding an affordable home in the Roaring Fork Valley. Now it looks like the traditional stock of affordable housing in the Colorado Valley is in short supply as well. Houses less than $200,000 are sparse at best in Rifle, Parachute and Battlement Mesa, and it's rare for those homes to be on the market more than a week.

Garfield County is close to completing a housing needs assessment that will offer more details on the housing market in the county and examine options for fostering affordable housing.

Read the full article by Bobby Magill
in the Post Independent [January 19, 2006]

Legislating health benefits from large corporations

State Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton has introduced a bill that would force large Colorado employers to pay 11 percent of wages toward health care costs hand over the difference to Medicaid.The bill is an adaptation of Maryland's recently adopted law requiring employers with over 10,000 employees to spend at least 8% of payroll costs on employee health benefits

House Bill 1316 maybe targeting target Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, which employs 25,380 in Colorado, but all businesses firms with 3,500 or more workers would also have to comply — including King Soopers, Centura Health, Safeway, HCA- HealthOne, Exempla Health, IBM and the University of Denver. All government agencies would be exempt.

Similar bills are being considered in 30 states.

Read Rachel Brand's article in the Rocky Mountain News
[February 9, 2006]

Denver goes solar

The city of Denver is seeking out companies to build a new municipally-owned solar power plant that would generate enough electricity to provide power to more than 1,000 homes.

The plant would be built at an industrial portion of the new urbanist Stapleton development. The plant will be one of the first municipally-owned power plants in an urban area in the nation. Revenue from selling energy to Xcel Energy will provide more than enough money to pay for construction and maintenance of the plant.Read the full article