Weighing their options: Commissioners consider raises, level of dependent coverage

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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County commissioners are mulling over raises and changes to the dependent insurance coverage offered to employees.

In a meeting last week, County Judge J.D. Clark said for the first time in five years they would be able to offer a pay increase to all county employees, and he presented two options to commissioners.

The first option is a 3 percent raise with dependent insurance coverage at 50 percent. The second option is a 4 percent raise, but dependent coverage will be cut to 40 percent.

The two options go hand-in-hand with a discussion about insurance costs at the July 30 meeting.

At that meeting, Clark recommended cutting dependent coverage because he, along with Treasurer Katherine Hudson and Auditor Ann McCuiston said paying 50 percent for dependent coverage is not sustainable long-term. The county currently pays $291,932 per month or $3.5 million annually for health insurance.

“Our health insurance costs a dadgum fortune,” Clark said. “Staying at 50 percent really worries us. What we don’t want to do is just one year hit a brick wall, and just say we can’t do dependent coverage at all. That’s a big pill to swallow for employees.”

He added that there are 379 employees on county insurance and not all of them have dependents, so those with dependents are receiving a benefit for which everyone else isn’t eligible.

Clark said what might be more fair to all employees is a defined contribution to help cover insurance costs. If that were adopted, every employee would receive a set payment every month, and there would be a list of things it could be used for such as dependent coverage, dental insurance, or a retirement plan, to name a few.

“Then every employee would get the same benefit, and it’s 100 percent predictable every year as to what we’ll be spending on benefits,” he said.

Clark explained that budgeting for insurance can be difficult because if a single employee quits in the middle of the fiscal year and a person with dependents is hired to replace them, the county’s insurance costs suddenly go up – an expense that wasn’t budgeted for. Wise is one of only five counties in the state that offers dependent coverage.

“We’re not trying to take coverage from anyone, but to make it sustainable,” he said. “People are used to 50 percent because that’s what the county does, but it’s not sustainable, so I’m trying to figure out what to do instead.”

Clark said Monday, commissioners aren’t considering a defined contribution for the fiscal year 2019 budget, but it’s something he’d like them to consider in the future.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, as well as the proposed tax rate, will be discussed at a public hearing 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Weatherford College Wise County.

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