Committee discusses raises, cost of employee health insurance

Published 7:49 am Friday, May 5, 2017

Members of the Carter County Budget Committee discussed raises for county employees as well as elected officials during Thursday evening’s budget workshop session.

As the Committee begins to work on a proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, they are starting out at a deficit resulting from expenditures approved last year without supporting revenue.

“The raise you gave employees last year was really unfunded,” Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd told the committee. “You took it out of the fund balance. So you are starting out in the hole.”

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The deficit to cover the employee raises last year equals around $500,000 according to Byrd.

Several of the county’s departments have requested raises for their employees this year ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent.

Commissioner Ronnie Trivette asked how much the county pays for health insurance for its employees. Byrd said there are two groups of employees when it comes to insurance due to a policy change.

The county pays 100 percent of the cost of insurance for employees hired before the policy change, which Byrd said she believed went into effect in 2010. The cost for those employees is around $8,300 per year Byrd said.For those hired after that day, the county requires those employees to pay a portion of their insurance premium. The county pays $7,227 each year toward the insurance premiums for those employees.

“I don’t think we should give any raises because we’re paying for their insurance,” Trivett said. Commissioners Robert Carroll and John Lewis expressed the opinion that the county employees should pay the cost of their own health insurance.

Commissioner Sonja Culler, who serves as Chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said she felt the county should continue to pay for the employee’s insurance according to the policy.

“The least we can do for these people is pay for their insurance because we don’t pay them what they’re worth,” Culler said.

Commissioner Al Meehan cited a concern that it would make retention of employees difficult if the county eliminated the benefit of paying all or a significant part of the health insurance premiums.

“It would cost more, in the long run, having to hire and train new employees,” Meehan said.

Some commissioners took a different stance on the issue.

“If they’re not happy with their job, somebody else will come in and do it,” Trivett said.

Lewis expressed a similar opinion to Trivett.

“I come from the old school. If I had a job I didn’t like, or I wasn’t making enough money, I’d go out and find another job,” Lewis said. “If you don’t like your job then quit.”

Both Lewis and Carroll stated it was not fair for the county to ask the taxpayers to pay for health insurance for county employees.

Members of the Committee also discussed raises for elected officials that are mandated by the state. Meehan stated he was concerned about the state mandated raises and what they mean for the county’s budget process.

“That puts an extra burden on the taxpayers each year,” Meehan said. “These mandated things keep raising, and we need a way to offset it.”

“We are on an unsustainable trajectory,” he added.

Salaries for the County’s elected officials — such as the Mayor, Sheriff, County Clerk, and Trustee to name a few — are set by the State. Raises for those officials are also set by the state with the county having no control over the salary or raise.

“I have been against state-mandated raises since I took office,” Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey told the Committee.

Humphrey said he had spoken with Carter County’s representatives in the State Legislature regarding the statute that sets the salaries and raises.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do about this,” Humphrey said. “I wish there was. We have to comply with this.”