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Panel approves employee insurance plan

There will be no change in insurance coverage for Unicoi County employees for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
In a 5-4 vote during a meeting on Monday, June 22, the Unicoi County Commission approved an option for the county employees to continue paying for their health insurance at the same levels as the previous fiscal year.
Voting in favor of this measure were commissioners Gene Wilson, Bridget Peters, Glenn White, Loren Thomas and John Mosley; voting against were Chairwoman Marie Rice and commissioners Jason Harris, Kenneth Garland and Walter Garland.
According to information distributed at the meeting the total projected cost of insurance for county employees during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which includes individual plans and family plans, is $794,359.68. This cost reflects a less than one-percent increase in cost from the previous fiscal year.
Employees will be enrolling in insurance coverage in the coming days. Depending on how many employees sign up for the county’s health insurance and which plans they choose could alter this total projected annual cost.
The information distributed at the meeting states that for employees taking individual coverage on a PPO plan the cost is $533.57 per month – $520 of which is paid by the county and $13.57 paid by the employee. Eighty employees were on this plan during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
For employees choosing individual coverage on a high deductible plan the cost is $422.88 per month – all of which is paid by the county. No employees were on this plan during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
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.
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This insurance option was one of two considered by the County Commission’s Employee Benefits/Salary/Policy Committee on June 17.
This second option left employee individual coverage the same as in 2014-2015 and increased the amount paid by employees for family coverage.
According to information Peters gave to the Commission on Monday, for employees opting for family coverage on the PPO plan this second option capped the amount paid by the county at $720 per month. This would have the employees who chose this coverage paying $673.43 per month.
For employees choosing the high deductible family plan this option capped the amount contributed by the county per month at $1,030.30 – the total monthly cost – and the employee would pay nothing per month.
According to Peters, option two would save the county $37,614.72 if the eight employees who were on the family PPO plan during the 2014-2015 fiscal year stayed on that plan and did not take the high deductible family plan for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
During Monday’s meeting, Peters made a motion to go with option two. Her motion was seconded by Wilson. This motion failed on a 5-4 vote. Voting against option two were Thomas, Kenneth Garland, Mosley, White and Rice. Voting in favor of option two were Walter Garland, Wilson, Peters and Harris.
The County Commission also considered a motion made by Harris for the county to provide a $200 supplement for family PPO coverage and a $300 supplement for family high deductible coverage. Harris said this would save the county $67,897.92 Walter Garland seconded this motion.
This motion failed on a 6-3 vote. Voting against this motion was Kenneth Garland, Mosley, Peters, White, Thomas and Wilson. Rice, Harris and Walter Garland voted in favor.
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These votes came after heated debate between the commissioners regarding the county’s funding of employee family insurance coverage during Monday’s meeting and work session held prior to the meeting. Some of the commissioners also debated the issue for more than three hours during a work session on June 17. In attendance at that meeting were Rice, Peters, Harris, Thomas, Mosley, White and Walter Garland. The members of the committee are Peters, Harris and Walter Garland.
At this meeting Walter Garland suggested cutting the county’s contributions to the family insurance plans over time.
“We don’t have the money,” he said.
White said he did not support changing the county’s contributions to family coverage.
“It will hurt them,” he said. “Leave it alone.”
Harris said he supported leaving individual coverage as before, but felt cutting family coverage some was needed.
County Clerk Mitzi Bowen urged the committee to give the employees insurance.
“If you’re not looking at giving employees raises this year at least give them this,” she said.
During Monday’s work session Kenneth Garland said he was against the county funding family coverage.
“Are talking about family insurance?” he asked during the discussion. “I’m going to say something that is going to make some people mad, but I don’t care. We need to cut it all. We have people who can’t pay their taxes; who are going to lose their homes. We’re paying family insurance on people making $70,000 to $80,000. That is ridiculous. …”
White responded to Garland by reminding him that funding family insurance by the county was voted in by the previous Commission.
“I don’t care what the last Commission done,” Kenneth Garland then said. “We are talking about now.”
White later said that he would not want his family insurance cut.
“You’re talking about children,” he said.
The debate continued during the regular meeting.
“I would rather see the entire county pay pennies extra than see 20 employees not be able to provide health insurance for their families,” Thomas said during the meeting. “There is nothing more important than family. As we discussed the other night their salaries are almost poverty level.
“If you want to make them pay $673 a month, which they can’t afford and they proved it years ago with the previous Commission when no employees were on family coverage because they couldn’t afford $700 a month,” Thomas continued. “If we didn’t have anyone sign up then, what makes us think we are going to have them sign up now? It’s not right to do this.”
Kenneth Garland again argued that the county was paying for family coverage for employees making more than $70,000.
“Do you think someone out there making $10,000 $15,000 or $20,000 should have to pay a man making $70,000 or $80,000 insurance?” he added.
Jon Manfull with Mark III Employee Benefits, who has worked with the county on the 2015-2016 health insurance plans, said “possibly four or five” officeholders were on one of the family insurance plans.
“Officeholders don’t make ($70,000),” White said. “The fact is this … I have a family. I need family insurance. I’m sure those people need family insurance. I’m not going to play God up here and affect children, moms and dads. The last Commission voted it in. You all gave it to them. Health insurance is one of the most basic needs a family has to have. I’m not voting to take it away.”
The Commission first voted on Harris’ motion, then Peters’ and finally on Mosley’s.
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The County Commission also unanimously passed a resolution in honor of Ulis Miller for his many years of service to the county.
Reading from the resolution, Rice said: “Ulis Miller has devoted many years of service to this county. (He) has been a steadfast leader in this county in numerous capacities and on numerous occasions.”
Rice said Miller served as a commissioner from 1986 to 2002 and as chairman for the majority of that time, served as interim county executive in 1990, served on the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board and as a member of the local economic development board.
Rice also said Miller served in many volunteer capacities and was instrumental in forming the Temple Hill water utility district.
“(He) never expected praise, recognition or gratitude,” Rice added. “He served humbly and selflessly.”
Accepting the resolution on Miller’s behalf were his daughter, Teresa Bowman, and granddaughter, Lindsay Bowman.
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In other business the County Commission:
• Granted County Mayor Greg Lynch authority to spend no more than $5,000 to hire a geotechnical firm to take core samples at the jail annex site on Jackson-Love Highway;
• Set budget work sessions for June 29 and 30 at 5 p.m. at the courthouse;
• Passed revisions to the Unicoi County Employee Handbook; Approved an interlocal agreement with the town of Erwin concerning ambulance service;
• Approved bonds for interim Property Assessor Wayne Peterson and Director of Schools John English;
• Appointed Commissioner Gene Wilson to serve on the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board;
• Awarded the bid for operating the Temple Hill solid waste site to Teresa Jones at the rate of $430 per month for the next year. The panel also tabled votes on the Hoover and Unicoi solid waste sites until August.