County employees' insurance premiums may drop

Lower usage a key factor in reducing cost of coverage

Posted

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

While that old saying may or may not be true, Clarendon County employees have been keeping the doctor away and that could lead to good news when they get their paychecks.

Clarendon County Chief Financial Officer Lynden Anthony told Clarendon County Council on Monday night that while the cost of employee pensions will be going up, the cost of health insurance for Clarendon County employees will be going down.

Anthony said that for the past few years, increases in health insurance premiums has outpaced the county's ability to increase taxes.

"It has squeezed our budgets within the general fund considerably," he said.

A week ago, the county was informed that county employees' use of health care had come down significantly compared to state employees, he said.

Clarendon County pays a rate over and above the state premiums to take into account utilization compared to state employees into consideration, he explained, and the county's insurance costs have gone up in recent years because county employees' use of health services has been higher than the average state employee.

"That trend has reversed significantly," Anthony said.

While the state is increasing employee premiums by 2.5 percent, Clarendon County will see a rather large reduction in both employee and employer health premiums, he said.

"Because this affects both the employer and the employee premiums, our employees will see their net pay increase at the start of the new year as a result," he said. "We are all looking forward to that."

Because of the reduced expense, Anthony said the current budget proposal includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for employees, effective July 1.

"Quite frankly, three weeks ago if you had asked, we would not have been able to do that," Anthony said.

Council also passed the second reading of an ordinance authorizing a general obligation bond not to exceed $750,000 to finance remodeling of the Althea Gibson Building to house the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The first reading of the ordinance limited the amount to $650,000.

County Administrator David Epperson said the increase was because of unexpected costs to complete the project.

During a public hearing on the ordinance, local citizen Joe Witt said he was concerned about the cost increase.

"It seems like we have begun construction on something without knowing what we're constructing," he said.

Council approved the second reading unanimously.

Much of the meeting involved individuals from county departments explaining their current budget requests. Most told Council they were able to find room for some budget cuts.

Magistrate Judge Nanette Frye said that while the proposed budget for Magistrate Court was less than the previous year, county judges would like to see a recording system installed at the Clarendon County Detention Center so bond hearings may be conducted remotely. She told Council they were seeking grant funding for the $5,000 project.

She also said the nine county judges are required to have 16 hours of training each year, and most judges are paying the $400 to $500 costs out of pocket.

Sheriff Tim Baxley said that he is requesting an increase in gas expense.

"We would be crippled by an increase in the cost of gas," he said.

The sheriff's office is badly in need of new vehicles, he said.

Out of a fleet of 57 vehicles, 36 have more than 150,000 miles, and 28 have more than 200,000 miles, Baxley said.

"You can't just keep fixing them," he said.