County commissioners to now pay toward health insurance

The last of this year’s county employee salary negotiations has been completed.  When Commissioner Sue Hakes brought her recommendations to the county board on Tuesday, July 24, the commissioners spent some time discussing whether they should start contributing toward their health insurance premiums and in what amount.
Commissioner Hakes recommended that the county’s half dozen non-union hourly employees receive an increase of 1.8 percent and continue to make no contribution toward their health insurance premiums, the same as regular salaried union courthouse employees and Highway Department employees.  The cost to the county would be about $3,400 over the next two years, Hakes said.  The board approved this recommendation unanimously.
Previously, on July 17, the board approved 2.5 percent cost of living increases for the supervisors, who are non-union, and the department heads and elected officials.  Supervisors will now pay $10/month toward individual or family health insurance and department heads and elected officials will now pay $25/month.  Union employees in the Sheriff’s Office also received a 2.5 percent increase and will pay $25/month for family coverage.
Commissioner Hakes then turned the conversation toward their own compensation.  She recommended that they receive no salary or per diem increases but that they pay $10/month toward individual or family health insurance.  “I think we should set an example,” she said, “and I think it’s a reasonable amount to ask in light of the fact that we’re not getting a raise.”
Commissioner and Board Chair Jan Hall pointed out the fact that the board does not receive step increases or regular cost of living increases.  If they receive any increase in their compensation, she said, they are “chastised,” told they’re “greedy,” and “written up in the newspaper.”  She stood in opposition to paying anything for health insurance.
In the nine years he’s been on the board, Commissioner Bruce Martinson said, the per diem for attending approved meetings other than county board meetings has increased from $75 to $100, but they have received no increase in their base pay.  They each receive $22,394 per year in base pay, with the chair making an additional $1,500.  Martinson said he was comfortable leaving their insurance contribution at $0.  He contended that they couldn’t set an example at this point since salary negotiations are now over.  “If we really want to make a statement,” he said, “let’s make it $25/month.”
Commissioner Hall said she could not afford an additional $25/month.  “That’s my grocery money,” she said.
Commissioner Jim Johnson said that making a contribution themselves would be appropriate if they are requesting a contribution from the employees.  “I think we’ve got to lead by example.”
Commissioner Hakes made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Johnson, requiring the commissioners to pay $10/month toward single or family health insurance coverage.  The motion passed unanimously.