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First motion to stop commissioner insurance falls flat

Despite numerous campaign promises from the people seated around the table, Commissioner Tom Krieger couldn’t get a second to his motion to end health insurance for county commissioners during the first meeting of the Employee Compensation and Benefits Committee.
Krieger raised the topic as one of the first agenda items during the organizational meeting held Oct. 9. “I ran on this, and some people didn’t know commissioners received health insurance,” he said. “I feel as part-time (employees) we are not entitled if other part-time county workers are not eligible.”
Commissioner Gary McAllister, who was elected committee chair, agreed. “I’m with Tom,” he said. “I ran on the same issue. I don’t think we’re entitled.”
“I ran on it also,” Commissioner Rick Storey said.
While she remained mum on the issue during the meeting, Commissioner Katie Baker’s comments to the Herald & Tribune during the campaign were, “This is part-time, and I don’t think the county commission should subsidize. As public servants, it should be just that; and as public servants, we should not expect to receive benefits.”
Commissioner Steve Light did not feel the same way.
“I’m going to disagree with you all,” he said. “I think it’s bad to come on and change before the next term.”
Light said insurance was not the reason he ran for commissioner, but that the benefit should not be taken away before the end of the four-year term.
He and Commissioner Sam Humphreys are the only ones who requested health insurance, which is a reduced $35,000 cost in the budget compared to last year’s $114,000.
However, County Benefits Coordinator Michelle Stewart said additional commissioners could choose to participate if they have a life change or during the annual open enrollment period.
“So at the end of the year, all 25 could pick up insurance?” Storey asked, and Stewart confirmed.
Krieger made a motion to end health insurance for commissioners on Dec. 31, but the motion died for lack of a second.
Humphreys, who was in attendance, also shared his opinion.
“We’re looking at a new administrative position and buying IPADS, and no one’s complaining.”
In addition, Humphreys said 10 commissioners are receiving life insurance. “These are benefits, and they should all be treated the same.”
According to Humphreys, county employees are coming to him with fears of losing their health insurance.
“They’re saying, ‘If they get you, are we next?’” he said. “You need to think about that before you start making motions and creating disturbances.”
Mayor Dan Eldridge said state law requires the county to provide health insurance to all full-time employees.
“I campaigned on (eliminating commissioner insurance), but I would vote against it today without any more information,” Storey said.
McAllister agreed. “I’m not trying to push anything off or have a knee-jerk reaction. I need more information.”
Light said commissioners would be keeping their campaign promises if they retained the insurance until the end of the current term and made a change for the next board.
McAllister recommended tabling the issue, and asked committee members to forward questions to him for a meeting with County Attorney Tom Seeley.
The committee also plans to engage compensation and insurance consultants for an in-depth analysis and recommendation for commissioner benefits and how best to serve county employees.
As far as committee members’ reaction to his motion, Krieger said it was unexpected.
“I was sort of surprised because I thought everyone felt strongly about it,” he said after the meeting.
“I think maybe it was the fear of taking the wrong legal action, and wanting to be better informed. We’ll just have to be patient.”