With its final say on the 2016 budget, the Lincoln County Budget Advisory Committee sent a unanimous message to commissioners – reduce employees’ medical benefits.
After reconsidering a revised county budget on Nov. 12, which shaved $158,473 off the originally proposed budget of $11.08 million, the budget advisory committee unanimously approved two motions targeting county employees’ medical benefits.
The budget advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend the elimination of retiree health benefits for future retirees – benefits for current recipients would remain in place – and reduce the county’s contribution to health insurance for employees.
Currently, the county covers 100 percent of the premium for the single health care plan for union and non-union employees. For the family plan, the county covers 85 percent of the premium for union employees and 97 percent of the premium for non-union employees.
Despite moving to a lower-cost plan which saved the county $150,000 in 2015, health insurance costs still account for more than $1 million of the county’s budget, according to Lincoln County Administrator John O’Connell.
The budget advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend the county reduce its contribution to employees’ premiums to an 80 percent employer-20 percent employee ratio, which is standard in the area, committee members said.
The current contracts with the county’s three bargaining units at the sheriff’s office, the communications center, and with the communications center supervisors, are set to expire on Dec. 31. Negotiations are ongoing and limit what can be said in public session, O’Connell said.
Under a strict deadline to complete the county budget and submit it to the state, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners must push ahead with the budget-setting process, even if new union contracts have not been agreed upon, and final figures on wages and benefits are not yet known, O’Connell said.
Commissioners work on the county budget right up until tax commitments are established in the spring, O’Connell said. While unable to discuss the direction of negotiations, health insurance coverage continues to be an area commissioners are looking into, county officials said.
The budget advisory committee recommended the county change its practice of providing supplemental health insurance coverage to retirees. In an effort to create loyalty among staff, the county has offered a retiree health benefit to longtime employees, O’Connell said.
The retiree health benefit cost the county $60,912 in 2015 and is projected to cost $73,006 in 2016. Thirteen retired county employees take advantage of the benefit, a county official said.
In response to the budget advisory committee’s previous dissatisfaction with the county budget, a new budget with $82,000 deducted from reserve accounts and $76,473 shaved off departmental budgets was presented. With an additional $6,000 in revenue from the rental of office space at the county’s new building for the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission, the revised budget after subtracting non-tax revenue of $9,487,040 for 2016 is a 3.28 percent increase from the previous year’s budget of $9,185,899.
The 2016 budget first presented to the budget advisory committee reflected a 5.07 percent increase. “We certainly heard you,” O’Connell said to the committee.