Board poised to vote on health care changes for county employees

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As part of an effort to bridge a possible budget gap in fiscal year 2020, commissioners could decide Tuesday, Oct. 2, to replace the three health care plans it offers employees with two new options proposed by interim County Manager George Wood.

Wood estimated in a September memo that the move would save the county about $1.24 million. The board might explore options that differ from Wood’s proposal.

Compared to peer counties and cities, Buncombe County has some of the richest health benefits, Curt Euler, the director of employee benefits and risk management, told commissioners on Sept. 18.

“The health plans’ costs are increasing at an exponential rate, and we don’t have the revenues to make up the deficits,” Euler said.

Under both new plans, the county would pay 80 percent of medical costs and the insured individual would pay 20 percent after meeting his or her deductible. One plan would combine a high deductible with a health savings account, while the other would use Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s preferred provider organization.

HEALTHY CHOICES?: This table shows how the cost structure of the county’s health care plans would change if commissioners decide to replace the three current health care plans with two new plans. Image courtesy of Buncombe County Government

Euler told commissioners on Sept. 18 that the county paid 95 percent of its employees’ health care costs, excluding premiums, in 2017. Other employers that use the Blue Cross Blue Shield network pay 86 percent of employee health care costs on average, leaving 14 percent to employees. “Our employees are paying a lot less than other comparable government agencies with Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s book of business,” Euler told commissioners.

During their meeting on Oct. 2, commissioners will also decide whether to significantly curtail a policy that allows employees to sell unused leave time back to the county, saving the county about $350,000, according to Wood’s estimate.

Compared to nine comparable counties in North Carolina, including eight of the state’s most populous, Buncombe County allows employees to sell by far the largest amount of unused hours back to the county. Only one of the comparable counties also has a policy on the sale of unused leave. Mecklenburg allows employees to sell a maximum of 40 hours back to the county, while Buncombe allows up to 300 hours. Wood has recommended that commissioners reduce that maximum to 40 hours, bringing Buncombe in line with Mecklenburg.

Taking into account nonrecurring revenue from FY 2019 that will not be available in FY 2020, Wood wrote that the county faces a shortfall of about $5.4 million for next year’s budget. He believes reducing the amount the county spends on health care and leave payback benefits could get the county closer to a balanced budget.

Read more about this issue here:

Extra early voting site

Commissioners could approve about $40,000 in additional funding for the Buncombe County Board of Election Services to fully fund 11 planned early voting sites in advance of the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election. Elections services staff expect the current approved budget to support only 10 locations.

The local board of elections disagreed in July on the appropriate number of sites. Presented with the option of a 10-site early voting plan versus an 11-site plan suggested by board member Jake Quinn, the State Board of Elections ordered the county board to implement the 11-site plan in an Aug. 5 hearing. Leading up to that hearing, in an Aug. 1 letter to the state board, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman wrote that commissioners would be willing to invest additional resources to increase the number of voting sites.

Conflicting letters included with the Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 2 agenda, however, point to disagreement among members of the Buncombe County Board of Elections about the request.

Board Chair John Watson, Vice Chair Lucy Smith and Secretary Steve Duncan requested funding for the 11th site in a letter to commissioners.

In a separate letter to commissioners, Quinn wrote that the members of the board of elections have “not been briefed on what the actual costs will be, and do not yet know if there may be ways to cover those costs short of requesting an amendment to our budget.”

“Should the need to submit such a request become apparent, I look forward to offering as much detail as we can about all aspects of the request,” he wrote.

The letters also highlight a divide between members of the board about how the plan was drafted.

Read more about the issue here:

Audit contract

Commissioners will vote on amending the county’s contract with external auditor CliftonLarsonAllen to expand the scope of its audit in light of allegations of corruption against former County Manager Wanda Greene and other county employees. The initial audit contract was for $118,125.

The amended contract would include a $56,715 fee increase and would add testing on a long list of new items, including individual p-card transactions, contracts the county entered into during FY 2018 and the controls in place for wire transfers. The amendment would also change the audit due date from Oct. 1, 2018, to Jan. 31, 2019.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, in the third floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. For the full meeting agenda, click here.

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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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