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Commission rescinds insurance vote

With a 5-4 vote during a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, July 27, the Unicoi County Commission reversed what was approved with a 5-4 vote at a June meeting.
At that June meeting the Commission approved funding insurance costs for employees who sign up for family coverage for the 2015-2016 fiscal year at the same level as the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
According to information distributed during the June meeting, for employees opting for family coverage on the PPO plan, the monthly cost is $1,393.43 with the county funding up to $1,111.82 and the employee paying $281.61 per month. There were eight employees on this plan during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. For employees choosing family coverage on the high deductible plan, the monthly cost is $1,030.30 – all of which is paid by the county. Twelve employees were on this plan during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Voting during the June meeting to supplement employees choosing family coverage at the same rate as the 2014-2015 were Gene Wilson, Bridget Peters, Glenn White, Loren Thomas and John Mosley. Voting against the measure were Marie Rice, Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland and Jason Harris.
Following the June meeting, county employees enrolled in insurance coverage with BlueCross BlueShield for the coming fiscal year. During this enrollment, 18 employees opted for family coverage.
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On Monday, the Commission opted to reverse its previous decision and go with another family insurance coverage funding option, which is estimated to save the county $116,000 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Individual insurance plans for county employees were not voted on or altered during the meeting.
Peters said during a meeting of the Unicoi County Employee Benefits, Salary and Policy Committee Meeting, held prior to the Commission’s regular meeting on Monday, that with the option being considered, county employees who choose family coverage on the PPO plan will pay $873.43 per month. Employees on the high deductible plan will pay $510.30 per month.
At the end of the 30-minute committee meeting, committee members Walter Garland and Harris voted to recommend that the Commission go with this funding for family coverage. Peters, who chairs the committee, voted no.
Prior to the vote in the committee meeting, White expressed his opposition to increasing the amount employees pay for family coverage.
“I supported keeping the employee insurance coverage as is because I have a family,” White said. “… Since we voted to keep the insurance as is … people have already made plans to keep the insurance. I, personally, think it would be unfair to change it at this stage.”
White went on to say that he did not think the Commission could make further cuts to the budget to absorb the $116,000 proposed to be saved by changing the insurance funding. He went on to suggest the county have a four-cent property tax increase to fund the insurance costs, but did not receive support.
During White’s comments, Kenneth Garland interjected saying: “I’m for cutting all the family insurance.”
White continued to argue in favor of keeping employee family insurance coverage as it was voted on in the June meeting.
“We gave them our word,” White added.
Harris said he felt employees taking family insurance were receiving extra benefits that employees on individual coverage, or those not taking insurance through the county, did not receive.
“You have 18 people getting over $7,000 more a year than other county employees,” Harris said. “I think it is very unfair to the taxpayer to pay what we pay for family insurance coverage.”
Harris then made a motion to the committee to go with the new option. Walter Garland seconded this motion.
Peters said she would like to present two choices to the full Commission – one, leave the family insurance coverage as it was voted on in June; two, consider the new option. However, this was not voted on by the committee.
Prior to voting on the new family insurance funding option, commissioners had to vote to rescind the action from the June meeting. Harris made a motion to approve this, which was seconded by Kenneth Garland. Voting in favor of the measure were Harris, Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland, Marie Rice and Gene Wilson. Voting against the measure were Peters, Thomas, Mosley and White. The motion to rescind passed, 5-4.
When the change to funding employee family insurance coverage came up during the Commission meeting, some commissioners voiced their disapproval.
“I will say again, there is no employee we have who can afford either $873 a month or $510 a month for insurance,” Thomas said. “I have statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor; it says the average employer share (for family insurance) is 71 percent. The average employee share is 29 percent. What you are proposing is nowhere close to that. … We are going to hurt 18 families. It is obvious to me you don’t care about these people.”
White again voiced his opposition to altering funding for employee insurance coverage.
“I didn’t fully understand the debt burden (providing family insurance) had on the county,” White said. “However, five of us voted last month to given them insurance. I believe we five should vote to keep their insurance this year because we have already done that. They have already made plans.”
White said the Commission should not alter its previous vote with the stipulation that county employees taking family insurance understand that in the 2016-2017 fiscal year the county may not be able to fund the coverage.
“At least we give them a year to plan,” White also said. “No one can go from paying $281 a month to $873; it’s impossible.”
Mosley also voiced his opposition to changing funding for employee family insurance coverage.
“By making a motion to rescind last month’s vote, we basically said this Commission’s word is no good to the people who work for this county,” Mosley said.
On Monday, Rice, Wilson, Harris, Kenneth Garland and Walter Garland voted to go with the new option and require employees who chose family insurance coverage to pay, if they choose to have insurance through the county, either $510.30 or $873.43 per month depending on the plan.
Voting to keep the family insurance coverage the same as voted on in the June meeting were Thomas, White, Mosley and Peters.
Changing the coverage passed with a 5-4 vote.
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The 2015-2016 budget as a whole was also discussed during Monday’s meetings.
After a lengthy discussion, the panel voted 7-2 to allow County Mayor Greg Lynch to publicize the proposed 2015-2016 budget in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.
This vote came after Sheriff Mike Hensley requested the Commission include a vehicle maintenance employee and additional certified deputy in his budget. The cost of these additions, according to Rice, was an additional $86,887.
“That would be a four-cent tax increase,” Rice added.
Wilson then said he felt the Commission should stick with the cuts its members had discussed during a work session the previous week.
“I wish we would have stuck to the insurance we voted on last month,” Mosley said in response.
Hensley said the requested positions were needed. Prior to the meeting, Hensley presented a Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion and a letter from Judge Jean Stanley in support of his requests to commissioners and the media prior to Monday’s meetings.
Hensley said a vehicle maintenance employee is needed to keep his department’s fleet in good operation in order to avoid lawsuits, should a wreck occur. He also said the state is requiring POST certified officers to be in the courtroom when court is in session.
“I will not hold court without the presence of adequate security in the courthouse and most especially not without court officers present at all times,” Stanley writes in the letter. “I am sure that my fellow trial judges will agree with me.”
Hensley said the demands on his department do not permit him to take a certified officer from patrol to place in the courthouse. He said the additional officer he requested would cover court, and, when court is not in session, serve the papers his department is required to serve to assist patrol deputies in doing so.
“I am mandated to do this,” Hensley said.
The panel chose to reject Hensley’s requests.
The panel did approve a ½-cent increase to the budget of Road Superintendent Terry Haynes, which amounted to approximately $15,000 to be taken out of the proposed general fund for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Rice said during a work session prior to the Commission meeting that the proposed budget for 2015-2016 includes using $137,000 of the money the county received from Mountain States Health Alliance for the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital.
“The shortfall right now is $65,276,” Rice said. “If you add the $137,000 that puts us $71,724 in the black.”
Rice’s comments took place before the Commission voted 5-4 to alter the county’s funding for employee family insurance coverage. Adding the $116,000 the county is projected to save from the family coverage change, Rice said the budget surplus, which is used for a fund balance, will be $187,724. The budget does not include a property tax increase.
Rice also said the county faced a $400,000 shortfall at the start of the budget process.
With the Commission voting to approve the ½-cent increase to Haynes’ budget, the fund balance is now estimated at $172,724.
The 7-2 vote to publicize the budget also came after Thomas made a motion, which was seconded by Mosley, for the Commission to table the vote on publicizing the proposed budget.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ motion failed on a 5-4 vote. Voting in favor were Peters, Thomas, Mosley and Walter Garland; voting against were White, Wilson, Kenneth Garland, Harris and Rice.
An agenda item to set the property tax rate for the 2015-2016 fiscal year was tabled during Monday’s meeting. It will be considered at least 10 calendar days after the budget appears in a newspaper of general circulation, as will the proposed budget.
The Commission was scheduled to meet in budget work sessions the remainder of this week. These meetings were cancelled at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting.
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In other business, the Unicoi County Commission:
• Approved using a grant from Rural Development to purchase four vehicles for the sheriff’s department.
• Passed resolutions honoring Kortney Shyan Bailey and Sarah Plemmons for receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award;
• Approved increasing the bond for Interim Property Tax Assessor Wayne Peterson from $10,000 to $50,000;
• Passed a resolution for the county to participate in the Retire Tennessee program through the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County;
• Agreed to changes to the Register of Deeds personnel policy;
• Elected notaries;
• Tabled a vote to consider procedures for replacing a member of the Civil Service Board.