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Commission looking for insurance resolve

Commissioners face several options concerning employee health insurance – everything from paying 65 percent higher premiums to asking a new agent step in on negotiations.

Sunday, November 18, 2001

Commissioners face several options concerning employee health insurance – everything from paying 65 percent higher premiums to asking a new agent step in on negotiations.

The board adjourned last week’s meeting without a decision, although they indicated a final choice could come Tuesday.

Among the possibilities:

– The same benefits package with current company Medical Mutual (the sole bidder this fall), but that could double county and employee cost shares.

– Accept one of six options prepared by the county’s agent, McNelly Patrick and Associates, but that would reduce benefits. (The option with the lowest cost increase still shows the county’s premiums rising 42 percent).

– Rebid the insurance altogether, but the current plan expires Nov. 30. And, only Medical Mutual submitted a bid last time, which sparked concern from the commission that if no bids come in then the county has no insurance.

– Change insurance agents, hoping a new agent could negotiate a better policy with Medical Mutual. (At least three other agents are interested. Motions by commissioner George Patterson to appoint Brown Raybourn have failed.) The commission can also switch agents to get another quote then switch back if it didn’t work, which is another idea that’s been discussed.

Meanwhile, the commission has approved requests to split employees’ deduction for insurance, beginning in December.

Insurance will be taken out of each check instead of once a month, which could make it easier for employees to absorb an increase.

At their Thursday meeting, commissioners did not discuss the recent employee raises given by Lawrence County Common Pleas Court, although they disapprove.

The employees, security staff and court reporters, need raises but "this is not the time," commission president Paul Herrell said.

"I know the judges don’t like it, but we’re making layoffs and to give raises, it’s not right," Herrell said.

Common Pleas Court presiding Judge Richard Walton said the department has watched its spending this year, remains within its budget, and will turn money back over at the end of the year.

Auditors records show between 10 and 20 employees received anywhere from 25 cents to 75 cents per hour raises, or $25 to $50 per pay period raises. Auditors also said the court’s budget can cover the increase.

The court, a separate branch of government compared to the commission, hasn’t spent everything in its budget, Walton said.

"If we would’ve given raises at the first of the year, this would never have come up yet it would have cost the county more money," he said.

Under state law, courts can order money into their budget for operational expenses, which means the county can do nothing except disapprove, Herrell said.

"I know they need raises, but the county can’t afford it right now," he said, adding that commissioners urge other offices not to follow suit, just in case.

A slump in county revenue, likely because recent job losses led to a slower economy in recent months, sparked a second spending freeze and six county layoffs last month. With this week’s announced closing of Ames, and a likelihood that the state will shorten the dollars it sends to Lawrence County, it’s only going to get worse, Herrell said.

Although the pay raise issue was not on the commission’s Thursday agenda, commissioners did take other action, including:

– Heard a report from Doug Cade, director of special projects at the CAO, about the contract with the Lawrence Scioto Joint Solid Waste District. The board voted to hire the CAO to administer district policy at a cost of just over $69,000 for 2002. Based on population, Scioto County will pay the lion’s share of the cost, or about $40,000.

The solid waste district, required by the state to develop waste reduction and recycling plans, had been in danger of violating EPA regulations.

Without the contract, the EPA could have forced the counties to spend as much as $300,000 immediately to enact waste reduction plans. Now, the joint district can pursue more grants for full funding.

Among current plans are a Christmas tree recycling program, a scrap tire grant in Bloom Vernon schools, and others.

– Voted to hold the next regular meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. The commissioners also decided to close the courthouse on Monday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

– Signed union contracts with the Child Support Enforcement Agency. The two-year contracts affect about 15 employees, and call for 3 percent raises. The agency is funded by state and federal dollars, officials said.

– Voted to meet with grant writers this month to get updates on a Decatur fire station grant, and projects to develop waterlines across the county.

– Approved a motion to advertise for an FBO, or fixed base operator, for the Lawrence County Airport. The advertisement is subject to prosecutor, airport advisory committee and commission review.