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Unicoi Co. Budget Committee looks at having employees fully pay for health insurance

August 1st, 2014 11:25 am by Brad Hicks

Unicoi Co. Budget Committee looks at having employees fully pay for health insurance

ERWIN — No proposal to help trim a nearly $600,000 budget deficit faced by Unicoi County was off the table at Thursday’s meeting of the County Commission’s Budget Committee, where discussions focused on budgets presented by county officeholders and county employee insurance costs.

At a committee meeting held earlier this week, Commissioner Dwight Bennett tossed out the idea of having each of the county’s officeholders cut their proposed 2014-15 budgets by 5 percent. The committee started to work on this proposal at Thursday’s meeting.

“You can cut their bottom line, then they have to live with that amount of money,” Commissioner Sue Jean Wilson said.

The committee looked at the 2014-15 bottom line of the office of Unicoi County mayor. The bottom line figure is $268,102, and a 5 percent reduction to it would provide around $13,400 in savings.

“It still doesn’t get us to where we need to be,” said Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Mickey Hatcher. “That doesn’t fix the situation.”

But Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said he didn’t see where he could make cuts in the budget, adding that he does not think the committee can “arbitrarily” ask each officeholder to cut their budgets. Instead, Lynch said he would like to see the committee look at which offices have increased their budgets the most over the past three years and have these offices be the focus of proposed cuts.

And before the committee could discuss possible cuts to the proposed 2014-15 budgets submitted by county officeholders, the panel shifted its attention to another area — county employee insurance.

In June, the commission approved having BlueCross BlueShield serve as the provider for employee medical insurance in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Per the plan, county employees on individual plans would pay $11.08 per month and those on family plans would pay $275.13 monthly, with the county picking up the rest of the monthly costs.

After the numbers were crunched Thursday, officials found the county could save $600,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year by having county employees pay for the entirety of their insurance. Although the idea was broached, as it could help avert possible personnel reductions, it did not appear to be popular with some officials.

“I don’t think it’s fair for any county employees to make them pay the full amount of their insurance,” Commissioner Loren Thomas said. “Any private company you go to work for pays a percentage.”

As was discussed at Thursday’s meeting, if the county pays the insurance costs for July and August, the county would save around $499,000 for the remainder of the new fiscal year by having county employees pay their medical insurance costs. If the county opted to pay half of the insurance costs, it would shave around $250,000 off the $600,000 deficit.

“This is not a total solution to the problem either,” Hatcher said.

The committee took no action on the insurance proposal discussed.

Prior to its discussion of possible cuts, the committee received some information on a requested increase for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County is seeking an additional $40,000 from the county in the new fiscal year for a total of around $89,000 in funding from the county for industrial development.

While this funding was grouped with other nonprofit funding requests, Tish Oldham, executive director of the county’s economic development board, said an “apples to apples” comparison of the economic development board to other nonprofits is not viable.

“The state does require that you have a joint economic development board in Unicoi County,” she said. “All 95 counties in Tennessee must have one.”

Oldham said little of the funding sought of the funding sought for industrial development is going toward funding, but rather toward items such as websites and marketing. Oldham said the county could face “repercussions” by not funding economic development, such as the possible loss of incentives. She also said funding is vital to ensure that the county positions itself to recruit industries and businesses.

The budget committee will meet again Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

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