By Max Hrenda
Any time government budgets are built, departments and policies go under the microscope to determine which should or should not receive funding.
In Carter County’s case, however, a telescope might be more appropriate.
Coming into this year’s budget cycle, the county’s Budget Committee needed to account for $4.4 million in combined increases.
After several proposed cuts, reductions and a proposed 15-cent tax rate increase, the committee has made progress in reducing that figure, but a $1.5 million difference remains.
To balance the budget and to account for future expenses, County Mayor Leon Humphrey and some residents have advocated reducing the county’s contribution to employees’ insurance premiums.
“As far as health care is concerned, it’s not the only area we should look at, but it’s one of the first we should look at,” Humphrey said. “If we continue to lay a heavy burden on the taxpayer to support things such as health care, and they’re not getting any benefit, it’s not fair. Most of the citizens I’ve talked to have a problem with that, because they don’t see the same benefits themselves in their lives.”
For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, with federal, state, and local funding options, Carter County has spent a combined $5,924,673.59 on insurance premiums for county employees.
Though many taxpayers have, in all likelihood, received insurance benefits from an employer, they might not be accustomed to the extent of coverage provided by the county.
Between 1981 and 2010, every Carter County employee’s insurance policy was paid for in full by the county.
As of Jan. 1, 2011, the county changed its policy, and reduced its contribution for its new employees – excluding school system employees – to 90 percent; the 74 who were hired after this date pay the remaining 10 percent. The 147 employees and office-holders who were hired before 2010, however, still receive 100 percent coverage.
During this past fiscal year, for these 221 county employees, the county spent $1,614,050.24 on health insurance.
Because of that figure, along with projected increases in insurance premiums, Humphrey said it might be necessary for the employees to start paying for the increases themselves.
“We’re projecting 10 to 15 percent increases,” Humphrey said. “In county government, there comes a point where we cannot sustain those increases, and the employees are going to have to share some of the costs.
“We cannot continue to pay 100 percent; it’s just that simple.”
Some in county government feel, however, that reducing the employees’ insurance coverage would cost the county.