A change in insurance rates and possible cost of living raises the major highlights of the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget presented to the Sebastian County Quorum Court Thursday night (Nov. 6).
Regarding insurance for county employees, County Judge David Hudson said the county had offered two different insurance plans with $2,500 and $1,000 deductibles respectively. The county, he said, was shelling out more money on the higher deductible plan which has lead the judge's office to recommend combining all employees into a single plan that would have a $2,000 deductible.
For an employee of the county insuring him or herself only, the plan would run $80 per month, while an employee and any dependents (i.e. children, spouse or both) would up the plan to a flat rate of $204 per month.
Compared to the 2014 rates for the two plans, employees on the $1,000 deductible will pay the same amount for coverage at $80 per month, but family plans under the $1,000 deductible were running $254 per month. The new plan will cost $50 per month less.
On the $2,500 deductible plan, individual employees were paying $20 per month while family plans were running about $104 per month, meaning both plans increased by $60 and $100 per month respectively, though the deductible dropped by $500. Hudson did not state how much combining all employees into a single plan.
"A continued emphasis on wellness programs and benefits will be emphasized as a documented health initiative that improves the well being of employees and has helped stabilize health care costs in other organizations both regionally and nationally," the budget document outlining the insurance costs stated.
Hudson said the attempts at cost savings came as a result of flat revenues at the county from the countywide sales tax and property tax collections.
"Total General Fund personnel cost has grown 18% over the past five years while General Fund revenues have increased 17% during the same time period," he wrote. "Slow growth in County property taxes and decreasing or flat increases in County sales tax revenues are significant budget issues for 2015 and later County budgets."
Tied to personnel costs is a proposed 1% cost of living increase for all county employees, which is historically less than previous years.
"In 2009, we had a 3% merit and capital improvement adopted in the budget," he said. "In 2010, 3% cost of living and capital included in the adopted budget. In 2011, 2% cost of living and no cap. It was deferred to February. 2012, 3% cost of living. No cap. It was deferred to February. 2013, 0% cost of living, no cap. It was deferred to February. 2014, 2% cost of living and no cap. Deferred to February."
While Hudson is pushing for raises, up to $505,000 will have to be cut he told Justice of the Peace Linda Murry when questioned about the proposed spending plan.
He told her options would be discussed with the Quorum Court at meetings next week, with the court left to decide where potential cuts should come from.
"What it comes down to is do you want to give people a raise, do you want to allocate 1% or do you want to do special pay and reclassifications and things like that," he said, speaking of a reorganization of the county's pay grade system across all departments.
"You have to make a decision about where you want to spend your money," Hudson added. "We have a close budget."