Friday, August 16, 2013

Commissioners weigh phase-in of salary increase

Savings sought to maintain employee health coverage


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

    The amount of a proposed salary increase for the Blaine County commissioners became less certain Tuesday as the commissioners sought a way to fund part of current health insurance benefits for county employees.
    Under the tentative fiscal year 2014 budget, set July 24, the county’s share of premiums for health insurance to cover employees’ children would drop from 50 percent to 40 percent. The commissioners have since agreed that they would like to keep coverage at the current 50 percent.
    “There are going to be a lot of changes in health care in the next year, and I think we should wait until there are less unknowns before we consider any changes [to employee coverage],” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said during a meeting at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.
    Commissioner Larry Schoen said he was concerned that people at the lower end of the pay scale would be disproportionately affected by changes to their health benefits.
    Even with a 10 percent reduction in the county’s share of dependent premiums, employee health care insurance will cost the county $58,000 more next year than it does this year. Maintaining the county’s share at 50 percent will cost $126,000 more than this year.
    To make up the difference, McCleary proposed $79,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget, composed of:

  • $31,500 from in an estimated cost of $156,000 for involuntary mental-health holds.
  • $6,000 that was to go toward purchase of a Sheriff’s Office car for the disaster services coordinator. The car is being bought this year.
  • $10,000 in security upgrades for offices in the old courthouse.
  • $15,000 to redo locks in the county annex building.
  • $12,500 to delay the start of a jail officer’s position.
  • $4,000 from the county’s contribution to Fly Sun Valley Alliance and Mountain Rides Transportation Authority.

    Schoen supported most of those cuts, but also proposed a five-year phase-in of an increase to the commissioners’ salaries included in the tentative budget. As written, the budget would award each of the three commissioners a $20,400 raise, from about $61,500 to about $81,900.
“Across the community, there is a great deal of consternation that the commissioners are awarding themselves this outsize increase in one year,” he said.
He said the five-year phase-in period would cover two elections.
“If the community is unhappy with the commissioners being paid in this way, they can express themselves at the polls in 2014 and 2016,” he said.
    Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said he favored a two-year phase-in, and an increase of only $12,000. He said that would put the commissioners’ salaries at the level of the assessor and treasurer, not at that of the county clerk, as the tentative budget would.
    But McCleary said she opposed any phase-in.
    “I think it’s in the disservice to the public to have this debate every year,” she said. “We should make a decision and stand by it.”
    Though no formal vote was taken, the commissioners agreed to keep the dependent health insurance coverage by incorporating all of McCleary’s proposed budget cuts except for the $12,500 to fund the jail officer’s position. They postponed further discussion of the commissioners’ salaries.
    A final budget will be set Sept. 3.


Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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