Retirees who have spent decades serving Greenwood County have disagreed that the county council has stripped Medicare-eligible retirees from their health insurance plans.
Retirees called it a broken promise, but council members made it clear that county policy was not a promise. The change, they said, was essential to avoid a growing insurance liability that represents an unsustainable cost to the county.
Tuesday’s county council meeting included a consideration to revise county policy on premium subsidies for retirees. The change applies to retirees eligible for Medicare; once eligible, retirees switch from PEBA health insurance as a primary provider to Medicare. Greenwood County then pays them a health care grant of up to $ 250 per month, based on the total number of years they have worked with the county, to be deposited into a health savings account for reimbursement of medical expenses.
Gary Stratton, who retired after 25 years in the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office, said he stayed so long due to the county’s promise to pay for his insurance after he retired. A monthly allowance of $ 250, he said, is not enough to cover the insurance he needs.
“I could have gone with the state somewhere, I could have gone for private industry,” he said. “I’m going to have to take another job just to pay for insurance.”
Mary Ann Stroup has worked as a Victims Advocate for approximately 30 years with the 8th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. She told the board that the late Steve Brown said the board would not take retiree insurance benefits. Some who came to Tuesday’s meeting were unaware of the community meetings to discuss the change and asked the board to reconsider.
Faye Ridge said she was the director of human resources for Greenwood County when the retiree benefit plan was implemented and believes that getting rid of these retiree benefits will remove an incentive to have a long career in the workforce. the count.
“At the time, it was very difficult to find employees,” she said. “I was thrilled when this happened because we could hire more staff and they would stay longer.”
With around 50 years working for the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office, Lina Blizzard said she also stayed because of the insurance incentives. Insurance premiums will likely continue to rise, she said, and $ 250 will not be the same as a paid policy.
“I respectfully ask the County Council to reject this proposal and provide us with the assurance that has been promised,” she said.
But politics is not the same as a promise, said board member Theo Lane. Future boards are not bound by past decisions, and as the board explained in more detail, the decision was aimed at avoiding a potential financial disaster on the horizon.
Over the past 10 years, the county’s health insurance costs have doubled, Treasurer Steffanie Dorn said, reaching over $ 600,000 a year now. The Council has already cut newly hired employees from eligibility for retiree insurance plans on April 3, as the cost of paying pension benefits is expected to reach more than $ 2 million by 2047.
“It’s an unsustainable program,” Dorn said. “If the board adopts this policy, it will reduce our liability, which currently stands at over $ 27 million. “
County District Attorney Carson Penney said the timing of the council’s decision was critical – open enrollment for Medicare begins in mid-October. She said the county will host an insurance provider fair next month so retirees who lose their paid supplemental policy can discuss with providers what their allowance can afford.
“We are thinking about your future and how we want this county to remain a viable place,” said council chairman Chuck Moates. “We are trying to avoid an inevitable and certain disaster if it continues.”
Board member Edith Childs moved to accept the change and Board member Mark Allison seconded her motion.
“It was not an easy decision for the board to make,” he said. “Many counties have had to withdraw not only supplements, but entire pensions. “
Allison said he spoke to several insurance agents in Greenwood who assured him retirees could afford the same level of coverage the county provided with a $ 250 per month allowance. He offered to reassess next year how the decision affected the 77 retirees who benefited from it.
Board member Robbie Templeton was a board member when the benefits policy was first adopted.
“I also want to honor that commitment, and I think we are doing it, just in a different way,” he said.
In more than 30 years of working in the private sector, Lane said his insurance policy has changed four times – never to his advantage, nor with an allowance offer. Childs said the council was not receiving health insurance benefits and said it was trying its best to save the county from rising costs.
The change in insurance policy was approved unanimously.
Council also approved at second reading an amendment to the planned development district agreement for Wingert Road in order to allow C&C Metal Recycling to proceed with a withdrawal. This will allow the vehicle recycling company to remove used parts from vehicles destined for scrapping and resell the parts.
Cliff Redd, CEO of C&C, said the goal is to provide an economical alternative to people looking for auto parts in Greenwood. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, deliveries of ordered parts have often been delayed, and the pull-a-part will offer residents an alternative. Three C&C employees came to speak out in favor of changing PDD.
Neighbors across the Wingert Road lot, Steve and Charlotte Ehney, have asked council to deny the change. Steve said residual fluids from vehicles shredded at C&C can seep into groundwater or catch fire, and both have expressed concerns about increased traffic and noise from equipment.
The council voted 4-1 to approve second reading on the change, with Moates voting in opposition. Childs was absent because she had to leave the meeting before the vote.
Council approved an application to dissolve the Lost Lure Special Tax District, as well as a rezoning of a 28.1 acre parcel of land owned by Beattie Development at 421 Sagewood Road, which would increase the number of homes that could be developed in the field.
Council approved on second reading an ordinance removing a moratorium on the authorization of residential construction of less than 750 square feet.
Council approved a resolution rescinding mileage rates following a reassessment of county property values. Dorn said this ensures the county does not receive a windfall from new property valuations.