Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

CIA Committee votes to keep commissioners’ health insurance

Despite a $2.5 million shortfall in the county’s budget, members of the CIA Committee will recommend both commissioners’ health insurance benefits and incentive pay for attending meetings continue with no changes.
Greg Matherly made the motion during the Jan. 13 meeting, which was seconded by Richard Shadden. Matherly receives county insurance through his job in the sheriff’s office, not as a commssioner. Shadden is one of 12 commissioners currently opting to take benefits through the county.
David Shanks and Mark Ferguson, two more commissioners from the list receiving health benefits, also gave their approval during the vote. The lone wolf in the pack to oppose the continuation of benefits was Ken Lyon.
Lyon actually made the first motion of the meeting, which proposed no longer offering health benefits for commissioners. It is a position he has taken before, though he has been unable to gain the support of fellow committee members.
“Any place we can cut would be good,” Lyon said. “We’re part-timers, and I think it’s a drain on the county.”
Washington County Attorney John Rambo said it would be best, if the benefits were stopped, to make the change at the point of policy renewal, which is July 31. This would provide time for the required three months of advanced notice, Rambo said, and commissioners would be eligible for up to 36 months of COBRA coverage.
A two-thirds vote of the full county Commission is necessary to make a change.
Rather than asking for a second to Lyon’s motion, Ferguson, the committee chairman, continued discussing a comparison report of commissioner benefits in surrounding counties.
When Lyon reminded him there was a motion on the floor, Ferguson said, “I think it died for lack of a second.”
Whether commissioners should be on the county’s plan has been in discussion for months.
The CIA Committee was asked late last year to study the issue and make a recommendation to the Commission.
A Commissioner Benefits Study compiled by Washington County Communications Director Jeff Keeling was provided to commissioners on Oct. 5.
Keeling’s study indicates the average annual cost per commissioner receiving coverage is more than $10,800. In addition, his report examined whether surrounding counties as well as counties similar in size provided their commissioners with health insurance.
According to Keeling’s report, only two of the eight counties he studied, Johnson and Montgomery, offer health benefits to commissioners. Johnson County has two commissioners participating, and Montgomery has none due to the high premium.
Ferguson presented a comparison report of his own during last week’s meeting that shows three of the six surrounding counties offer health benefits. His information is based on a survey conducted by the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service on behalf of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association dated December 2009.
Ferguson also presented a copy of a state law that authorizes counties to provide insurance for employees and officials. According to the statute, “county employee may include, subject to the approval of the county legislative bodies, retired county employees, officials, and their surviving spouses.”
A comparison of the monthly and committee meeting stipends paid to commissioners also was discussed. Ferguson said prior to 1992, commissioners were paid approximately $150 for each commission meeting and $75 for each committee meeting they attended.
“I knew some who were making up to $1,500 per month,” Ferguson said.
Commissioners voted to pay a flat $375 per month in 1992, which hasn’t changed in 19 years, according to Ferguson.
“All these years, we’ve never asked for an increase,” Ferguson said. “I feel like the commissioners deserve what they’ve got.”
Not everyone agrees.
“I hear from my constituents that they don’t think commissioners should participate,” said Commissioner David Tomita, who does not receive health benefits from Washington County.
Tomita said he believes the Commission should look at the insurance policy in its entirety to determine if it’s the best plan for the county.
According to Tomita, the private sector in recent years has been forced to revamp its insurance offerings due to necessity.
“The public sector lags in this area because of a somewhat different mindset,” he said. “It’s not someone else’s money we’re talking about here — it’s our own.”
Determining whether to continue providing health benefits for commissioners needs to be done in an orderly and thoughtful process, Tomita said, because there are people behind every decision that is made.
But this is one process that won’t happen overnight, he noted.
“We’re trying to be more transparent and encouraging people to pay attention,” Tomita said. “That’s what will drive this.”