Pharos-Tribune

October 14, 2013

Health insurance brought back by commissioners

County council doesn't plan to follow suit

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
Pharos-Tribune

---- — Cass County commissioners voted last week to bring back their health insurance benefits, saying the county’s improving financial standing has allowed them to reverse a decision that cut their benefits two years ago.

In September 2011, the commissioners passed a resolution stating any commissioner who doesn’t currently have insurance through the county will not be able to obtain it and that future members would not be able to obtain it either. At that time, Commissioner Jim Sailors was the only member enrolled in a health plan through the county.

The commissioners voted unanimously to rescind this resolution Oct. 7, allowing them to get back on a health insurance plan through the county.

“We dropped it [in 2011] because we thought we were doing the right thing — trying to save money for the county,” Sailors said. “In reality, it hurts people who might want to run for commissioner.”

Sailors went on to say another reason commissioners agreed to drop benefits for the board was the possibility that one of the motives future members may have for seeking election may be to obtain benefits available to them, describing it as “a retirement thing.”

“That’s not really the case,” Sailors said, referring to the commissioners’ change of thinking on the matter.

Sailors added many full-time employees working for the county are paid through state grants, but receive insurance through the county.

“They’re paid by the state but they work for the county, so if it’s OK to insure them, why is it not to insure the commissioners when they’re actually employed by the county?” Sailors said. “Sometimes, when you make a decision you think was bad, you reverse it.”

Improving financial conditions in the county also led to allowing commissioners to get back on health benefits, Sailors said.

“Money has been tight for us for the last several years,” he said. “We went from a little over a $14 million budget to about a $9 million budget, so once you get that all under control, then you can see where you can spend your money.”

The Cass County Council passed a resolution excluding members not already on health benefits through the county from doing so around the same time the commissioners did two years ago. George Stebbins, president of the council, said there are no plans to bring it back for council members.

“I personally don’t feel a part-time job that pays $5,000 a year deserves health insurance,” he said.

The 2014 budget recently adopted by the council sets aside salaries of $5,510 for council members and $16,371 for commissioners.

“Part-time employees at the county building do not get health benefits and we are clearly part-time people,” he said of the council.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com. Follow him: @PharosMAK