Wednesday, April 22, 2009
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County: Board delays decision on removal of health insurance benefit for future board members

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[April 22, 2009]  A resolution that would change the compensation and benefits offered to future county board members did not make it off the table Tuesday evening, for lack of a second. The resolution proposed that board members would be paid per diem and mileage, and it removed the option of health insurance.

At the end of the meeting when the floor was opened for public comment, various board members explained the reasons they did not support the resolution, which predominantly came down to timing of when a change in compensation could legally be done and when it would work best.

Board member Dave Hepler said that the resolution also lacked completeness and needed to go back to committee.

Finance chairman Chuck Ruben said it would be best to make any changes at the 10-year mark that coordinates with the census. This would be in 2012.

Also at that time voters decide whether Logan County representation will be chosen at large or by district. That year all board member terms are scheduled to restart together. Then everyone would be on equal footing, Ruben said.

Michael McIntosh, Logan County state's attorney, agreed that it would be best to make the resolution closer to that time.

Board member John Stewart recalled that the issue of compensation and benefits was reviewed in 2006. Information on like-sized counties in Illinois was gathered and looked at, and he cited a couple of examples: Marion County had $400 per month for the chairman; $50 per diem, life and health insurance for board members. There were counties that had up to $12,000 per year in compensation for board members.

Stewart said he would not be running for another board term and would be gone before 2012, when the change would likely take effect. "I won't be here, but I think you have to look at the per diem before you take something away," he said.

Melody Anderson, a city council member, was present and said that the city of Lincoln pays aldermen $75 per diem for voting sessions held twice a month; $50 per diem for work sessions, two per month; and $25 per diem for special meetings, with an effort to have meetings all on one night to save on costs.

Ruben said that he ran some figures based on this month's costs. If the health insurance on the board members would be dropped and the per diem for all board members raised to $75, it would cost the county about $800 more per month.

In the course of discussion, Gloria Luster and Pat O'Neill also said that they would not be running for office again. Both made it clear that compensation and benefits were not behind their decisions. Their decisions in the matter would hold no gain or loss for them.

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Stewart countered an observation made by a citizen last week that the board members are not full-time employees and thereby should not be offered benefits. He said there is no job description and there are no set hours for board members. He's worked all hours of every day of the week. "I've had calls on a Sunday afternoon complaining about hog manure smells," he said.

However, what he wished to emphasize is that health insurance has been offered to the board members past and present and that the per diem needs to be looked at with any change.

Gloria Luster said: "I do not want to see my fellow board members harassed for this. It was given to them, and it was their option to take it." She also agreed that you need to look at what incentives there are to attract new people to run for the board. The resolution needs to be revisited for many reasons, she said.

Board member Dave Hepler added that there were some other factors such as dental that have not been addressed yet.

Board member Terry Werth addressed Terry Carlton, board chairman, with a recommendation to revisit the per diem in 2011, before the election of 2012, and he added that there should be a review of all the coverages of all the employees at that time, "so that we can make an impartial and fair evaluation."

The board voted last month to change insurance companies from Health Alliance to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had issued a letter stating that future board members would not be covered. It was unclear if the person who takes the District 6 seat would qualify for the insurance. The insurance representative would be contacted for clarification.

Michael Simonson, a current candidate who was present, said that it would not matter if he were to take the seat; he would not be taking the option.

Carlton said the issue would go back to committee to sort out.


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