SANDY — The city could be the first suburb in Utah to expand the definition of a family to include adult dependents of city employees.

A tense conversation between Mayor Tom Dolan and the Sandy City Council ended Tuesday with both parties agreeing to study the expansion of health-care benefits for families that don't fit the traditional nuclear mold.

The issue erupted after a presentation was given by Sandy human resources manager Brian Kelley, who explained that the city's cost of health insurance would increase 8.4 percent in 2009-2010, with no changes to the coverage pool.

The presentation did not include data about expanding family coverage, though Councilman Scott Cowdell asked for it specifically during a public meeting weeks ago.

"I'm confused at why that hasn't been addressed," Cowdell said. "I feel like I've been ignored, and I don't like that."

Cowdell then told about people close to him dying — or nearly dying — for lack of health insurance coverage.

The councilman, a branch president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a local seniors' home, has seen many people suffer for lack of health coverage. He would like any adult living in the home of a city employee to have the option of health insurance. People affected might be adult children or a single aunt or uncle, he said.

Cowdell made it clear his concern was not solely for gay and lesbian people, though domestic partnerships would benefit under his plan.

"I can't be more explicit than I'm going to be right now," he said, pausing. "This is not a gay or lesbian issue. This is a health issue."

The ensuing conversation concerned the details of health insurance, including actuarial adjustment and the possibility of charging only those who added extra adults for that coverage.

In the end, City Council Chairman Stephen Smith asked Kelley to talk with Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City about the way they managed expansion of adult health benefits. City staff will also talk with insurance providers about coverage expansion.

Before the meeting was over, Cowdell and Dolan agreed the expansion would cost more money to the city and that eligibility for the expansion would have to be clearly defined.

The council hopes to see a presentation this summer.

"I think we ought to do it," Dolan said. "I think it's something to look at. I don't want to discriminate against anybody for any reason."

E-mail: rpalmer@desnews.com