By Brad Hicks

The Unicoi County Commission on Monday, June 26, did not take action on increasing the amount the county contributes toward the monthly health insurance rates of its employees, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the current contribution will remain static.

As was the case during its May meeting, the County Commission was set on Monday to reconsider the county’s contribution to employees’ monthly health insurance premiums. Currently, the county contributes $520 per month for each of its employees.

An increase to this contribution has been discussed by county officials but not yet acted upon. During its May 12 meeting, the County’s Commission’s Employee Benefits/Salary/Policy Committee talked about the possibility of raising the $520 cap by 15 percent, which would bring the county’s monthly premium contribution to $596 per employee. The committee recommended the full County Commission’s approval of the measure, as it was felt the contribution bump would help offset an expected increase in employee health insurance costs from the provider.

The County Commission last month opted to hold off on upping the contribution as budgetary information, such as the amount of revenue each penny on the county’s property tax rate would generate for the 2017-18 fiscal year, was not yet known. By Monday’s meeting, this information was still unavailable.

Rather than acting upon a contribution increase, the County Commission on Monday instead voted to have the Budget & Finance Committee discuss the contribution matter during its July 12 meeting, as the penny’s value on the property tax and expected revenues for 2017-18 are expected to be known by that date.

However, the Commission did take action on another insurance-related item. Panel members present voted unanimously to place $50 monthly, from the county’s insurance contribution, into a health savings account for county employees on the high-deductible plan option.

Around 15 employees would be impacted by the move.

In May, the County Commission opted that United Healthcare serve as the county’s insurance provider for 2017-18, as its previous provider, BlueCross BlueShield, had eliminated one of its three plan options prior to that meeting. United Healthcare is offering three plan options to county employees.

Under United Healthcare’s high-deductible plan, the monthly premium for employees would be a little more than $432. With the county’s $520 contribution applied, this premium would be covered leaving a difference of a little more than $87.

Per the Commission’s Monday vote, $50 of this $87 difference would be placed into a health savings account for each employee on the plan option. With the move, the county would save around $37 per month per employee on the high-deductible plan.

The majority of Monday’s meeting focused not on county employee insurance, but oversight of the county’s waste convenience sites during the upcoming fiscal year.

The Commission was set to award contracts for the operations of the convenience sites. Contracts for the operations of the sites located in the Higgins Creek and Limestone Cove areas were approved with little discussion. The contract for operations of the Higgins Creek site was awarded to Teresa Jones, who submitted a bid of $405 per month to operate the center. The contract for Limestone Cove station was awarded to Shane Church, who placed a bid of $350 per month.

These votes followed the recommendations of the County Commission’s Solid Waste Committee, which met prior to the full County Commission on Monday

It was the consideration of the contract award for what is known as the Hoover site, located along North Industrial Drive in Erwin, that caused the most controversy.

Four bidders submitted proposals to operate the Hoover site, including current operator Eddie Effler. But Commissioner Kenneth Garland, who chairs the Solid Waste Committee, has previously and again on Monday expressed his displeasure over the appearance of the site. Garland during the County Commission’s January meeting described the site’s conditions as “pitiful,” adding the station is “messy” even by a dump site’s standards as refuse is scattered about the property.

It took some time and several votes before the Hoover site contract was awarded to new operators Jerry and Linda Lewis, who submitted a bid of $350 a month to oversee the station’s operations.

Two commissioners – Todd Wilcox and Bridget Peters – were absent from Monday’s meeting. Despite this, five votes, the majority of the full nine-member County Commission, was needed from commissioners present to award the contract to one of the bidders. After one round of votes, none of the four bidders received the required five votes.

After a lengthy and at times heated discussion, Commissioner Gene Wilson moved that the contract be awarded to Effler, despite this proposed measure failing earlier in the meeting. But County Attorney Doug Shults informed the panel that for a measure which previously failed to again be brought up for consideration, a commissioner who voted against the proposal upon its first consideration must be the one to change course and move for its approval.

Wilson voted in favor of awarding the contract to Effler during the first consideration.

This prompted Wilson to withdraw his motion and instead move that Effler’s contract be extended by one month and the matter of the Hoover site contract be considered again during the County Commission’s July meeting. This measure also failed to garner the necessary five votes.

To break the stalemate, Wilson eventually moved that the contract be awarded to the Lewises. This measure was seconded by Commissioner John Mosley. This measure received five affirmative votes, with Wilson voting against his own motion and Jason Harris casting the other dissenting vote.