|Reconsidering retiree insurance policy|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 20 April 2011 12:57|
Clamoring from county employees and constitutional officers has put the Baker County Commission’s policy of phasing out retiree health insurance contributions back on the table for discussion.
All but one of the commissioners agreed during the board’s regular meeting April 18 to revisit their 4-1 decision on March 21 to eliminate subsidized health coverage for existing employees who retire after October 31, 2013.
Commissioner Adam Giddens voted in favor of the change last month and stood by his previous vote this week.
“I thought we put this to rest,” he said.
The county presently contributes 56.6 percent of the cost for family coverage and 51.9 percent of the single coverage cost.
The March vote also eliminated subsidized health coverage for retirees 65 years or older, or who are eligible for Medicare, as of November 1, 2011, and exempted employees in the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Program commonly called DROP from the 2013 cutoff date.DROP employees who retire after the deadline can still receive the subsidy until they become 65 years old or Medicare eligible, according to last month’s vote.
A new proposal surfaced late last week that would remove the October 31, 2013 cutoff date and give retirees with at least 15 years of service a slightly smaller subsidy than today’s until they become 65 or Medicare eligible. Those with fewer years of service would not be eligible.
The smaller contribution would be 50 percent of the cost of single coverage. Retirees with family coverage would only receive half of the single coverage cost.
Commission chairman Michael Crews said the new plan delivers some savings over the old policy, under which retirees received the subsidy for life, while honoring commitments he said were made to employees by some constitutional officers at the time they were hired.
The county’s constitutional officers include Sheriff Joey Dobson, Tax Collector Gene Harvey, Property Appraiser Tim Sweat, Supervisor of Elections Nita Crawford and Clerk of Courts Al Fraser.
“I’ve spoken with all the constitutional officers and they believe it’s fair,” Chairman Crews said of the revised policy.
The policy appeared to be tweaked even further at Monday’s meeting, when a majority of commissioners expressed support for a fixed dollar contribution rather than a percentage of the cost of coverage, which they reasoned could grow in coming years.
Commissioner Gordon Crews questioned the 15 years of service requirement. “Is that enough? Do we need to make it 25 or 30 years? I don’t know,” he said.
Mr. Giddens repeatedly said he wouldn’t support the revised policy because it’s still too expensive for the county.
The first-term commissioner with almost six months in the post pointed to the policies found in other north Florida counties, including small rural counties like Bradford and Union, neither of which contribute anything to retired employees’ health insurance.
“St. Johns County only does $45 a month,” Mr. Giddens said of the more affluent coastal county. And that subsidy requires 30 years of service.
Chairman Crews reiterated his belief that it was “fundamentally unfair to go back on commitments” made to new hires regarding the insurance subsidy.
The board will mull the policy nuances until its next meeting May 3, when county manager C.J. Thompson said he’ll present commissioners with 20-year cost estimates of the various proposals.
In other business this week, the commission:
• Voted unanimously to donate $5000 to a $15,000 railroad crossing study to accommodate a
Project partner Jimmy Knabb, president of the Macclenny-based real estate company LaBuena Farms, requested the cost-sharing arrangement between the county, the city and the developers.
The planned road will serve as a US 90 bypass for semi-trucks and other traffic from the eastern county to SR 228 S. near the I-10 interchange.
“Getting the road through there and getting the jobs is worth $5000,” said Commissioner Mark Hartley before motioning for approval.
• Agreed 5-0 to contribute $1300 to help bring a Christian-themed performance group to the high school gym next month.
The group, known as Future Now, aims to build character among youth by discouraging drug use, underage drinking, teen sex and violence.
“We’ve got to get the kids thinking differently and the parents thinking differently,” said Wanda Walker, who made the donation request on behalf of Future Now. She said the group costs $10,000, and all but the $1300 was raised through private donations.
The shows, which include music, drama and “real life stories,” according to a flyer, will be free and open to the public.
• Voted unanimously to award a paving project on two miles of Southern States Nursery Road to APAC Southeast, the low bidder at $151,046. The stretch has been stabilized already with asphalt millings.
• Approved 5-0 the county’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, which was recently revised to meet technical objections and recommendations from the state’s Department of Community Affairs. The document is intended as a blueprint for controlled, orderly growth through the year 2020.
• Passed without dissent increasing the county’s motel bed tax from 2 percent to 3 percent to increase revenue for the Tourist Development Council, which intends to develop a civic center in the county.
Mr. Thompson said the council, chaired by Terry Bradley who was not present, believes it has enough money to purchase land for a future civic center site and the tax hike will generate enough future revenue to pledge toward construction bonds.
The council has about $306,500, and collected $23,276 in 2009-10.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 24 April 2011 13:04|