Berrien commissioner apologizes to taxpayers

There has been plenty of budget cutting in Berrien County recently, but on Thursday elected commissioners stopped short of cutting their own health insurance benefits.

"We apologize to the taxpayers," said Commissioner Marletta Seats.

A resolution before the commissioners would have increased the share of health insurance premiums they pay from 12-percent to 50-percent.

The resolution was tabled on an 8-to-5 vote.

"It's up to the commissioners to accept a reasonable amount of cut in their compensation,” said Commissioner Seats. “I mean to be fair across the board to the rest of the employees at the county."

Apparently, the health insurance benefits that some commissioners receive are now worth more than their salaries.

Each commissioner gets a base salary of $8,300.00. Commission Chairman Richard Bartz estimated the typical health insurance benefit to be between $12,000 and $14,000.

“If in fact commissioners are serious about cutting costs in the county, number one I think we have to look at our own budget, and one of the ways to do that is to contain our health insurance premium costs,” Bartz said.

The commissioners have enacted spending cuts in other departments that will eliminate 25-positions and likely result in layoffs.

“I think the motion to table is a tactic to delay this decision until after the election,” said Bartz.

There are a total of 13-elected Berrien County Commissioners. Eight of them participate in the county’s health insurance plan.

The proposal to increase the commissioner’s premium payment would have saved an estimated 35-thousand dollars next year.

The commissioner cost of covering a single person is $30.77 per month. The commissioner cost of covering a family is $70.12 a month.

“The taxpayers pay our benefits, they pay our wages, they have paid the health insurance for the commissioners who have chosen to take it” said commissioner Seats. “And then we have taxpayers who don’t' have insurance, and we’re elected to serve the people. I think if we want to be leaders in the community we should consider not being ahead or above what the economy is at this particular point.”

But a majority of the commissioners voted to table the matter. “I think we need to have more discussion, this is a very big decision,” said Commissioner Jeanette Leahey. “I do not take the health insurance yet I feel that a 300-percent increase is unreasonable.”

Leahey said she hoped the commissioners could reach an agreement that any increases be phased in. “I don’t think the board is saying ‘I don’t want to do it,’ that’s not what they’re saying, they do want to do it,” Leahey said.

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