Commissioners table idea after lawyers weigh in
County commissioners won’t see any changes to their healthcare plan, after the board’s attorney weighed in on the subject Monday, March 7. County Commission Vice Chair Todd Johnson had pushed to eliminate county healthcare insurance funding for all sitting commissioners, saying that as the county faces a projected $13.9 million deficit, cuts need to be made. The problem, board attorney Ligon Bundy explained, is that commissioners can’t amend their own compensation, unless it’s by a unanimous vote.
“(Healthcare insurance) was a benefit at the time all the current commissioners were elected, this limits the power to reduce (it),” Bundy told the board. The only legal way to make a change would be to remove that option for future commissioners, by passing a resolution no later than 14 days before the filing period for the next board election. He cautioned however that if the board did eliminate health insurance, it wasn’t something they could revisit.
“Once you do it, you can’t rescind it,” Bundy said.
Johnson had wanted to allow commissioners to keep the ability to opt into the county’s health insurance plan, but without any local funding. Currently only one commissioner, Tracey Kuehler, is on the county’s health plan. The other four board members have declined the benefit. Kuehler said she pays an estimated $550 per month for the benefit.
“I find it interesting we’re talking about this with bigger problems to solve,” Kuehler said, pointing out that several corporations offer healthcare to part time employees. “It’s not unprecedented. This is politics as usual.
She refused to approve the reduction along with fellow commissioner Kim Rogers. Even though the motion passed with a 3-2 vote, the initiative died without a unanimous vote.
“Sometimes it’s not the dollar amount, it’s the principle,” Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said, explaining why he voted to remove the benefit.
As people struggle to pay their bills, Johnson also argued that commissioners should lead by example. After the motion failed, the board moved on to the next subject, with no discussion about removing the benefit for future commissioners.