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Health costs shock county commissioners

Hubbard County contributes more money to its employees' family health insurance than it pays its commissioners.

That was the stunning announcement from County Coordinator Jack Paul Wednesday at the board's regular bi-monthly meeting.

"It's a bigger increase than anybody in town or anybody around," Paul told the board.

And the board might be saddled with the costs for the near future.

"We have binding contracts with six different unions," Paul said. "Once you put that money in a cafeteria plan, you can't really pull it off the table."

Becker, Beltrami, Cass, Pope and Stevens counties all contribute one amount of money to employee benefit plans, Paul said. It averages $9,528 per year compared to Hubbard County's average contribution of $12,245 for insurance.

In 2009 the county will contribute $8,280 annually to a single health insurance plan; $11,064 for a single plus dependents plan and $15,588 for a family health plan. Each insurance plan carries its own deductible limit. County commissioners earn $15,500 annually.

Paul surveyed the other major employers in the area and found the following:

-The Park Rapids School District makes families contribute $9,732 for their health plans;

-Two of the city's largest employers require their employees to contribute $4,200 and $2,667 in annual family health plan contributions;

-Hubbard County has an average family contribution of $16.50 per year.

Benefits comprise one-third of the total personnel costs. If the county were to pay each employee the equivalent of a single health plan premium, instead of contributing to family plans, it could save $670,000 annually, Paul calculated. This year, personnel will cost the county taxpayers $12.2 million.

Commissioners also heard a proposal to have hourly employees take a day off a month without pay, which could potentially save the county more than $350,000. The vacation time would not affect their accrued benefits or anniversary dates.

The idea would not work for many salaried employees, and that could be its downfall.

"We have to be careful of getting fooled into thinking we're saving money," said commissioner Lyle Robinson. "We might end up spending overtime to get the work done."

Paul said department heads could monitor the time off to ensure employees took it at times that wouldn't be detrimental to each office.

"They're (employees) gonna take a sick day if they want a day off," commissioner Don Carlson theorized.

Commissioners referred the matter to County Attorney Don Dearstyne to draft guidelines for taking the non-paid days.