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Councilman wants to end elected officials’ insurance

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Crawford says raising salaries, cutting benefit will save county money

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY – County Councilman Ron Crawford didn’t get very far in an attempt to make all councilmen and county commissioners pay for their own insurance.

“Voters do not think we should have insurance,” he said of the county leaders, who hold part-time positions in local government. He presented a plan at a regular council meeting Thursday that would bump their salaries but eliminate their insurance, and could save the county between $36,000 and $88,000 annually.

Some councilmen and commissioners are on the county-employees insurance plan, for which the county pays $55,173 annually, he reported. Because some aren’t, they don’t all receive the same compensation, he said, and raising their salaries would address a response he heard in the past, that the benefit is needed to attract good people to the positions.

He suggested the three commissioners’ salary total for this year, $42,184, be bumped to $45,000 in the 2011 budget. The council’s total of $36,132 for 2010 would go to $52,500. Those salaries plus the insurance benefits he said are enjoyed by seven of the 10 members cost the county $186,070. The increase he proposed would add $19,184 to salaries. The $36,000 savings he projected is based on actual insurance premiums being paid this year. The $88,000 is a maximum savings the county could realize.

“I think taxpayers will agree this is the responsible thing to do,” Crawford said before offering a motion to raise the salaries and stop funding the benefit for the part-time positions. The county officials could still get the insurance, but would pay the full cost.

Council President Pete Franzman reminded Crawford that the commissioners are the county’s legislative body, and it is they who decide who can get the insurance.

“I don’t think the council has the authority to make that decision,” he said.

Crawford responded that he had contacted the Association of Indiana Counties, “and they said the county funds it, so you should start there.”

He also referred to Indiana Code 36-2-5-3, which reads, in part, “the county fiscal body shall fix the compensation of officers, deputies and other employees whose compensation is payable from the county general fund ... county health fund ... or any other fund from which the county auditor issues warrants for compensation. This includes the power to fix the number of officers, deputies, and other employees; describe and classify positions and services; (and) adopt schedules of compensation.”

If that statute could be used to stop funding the benefit, Franzman replied, it could be applied to everything the council funds, and the fiscal body could control every department of county government.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as it’s been presented here,” he said. “I won’t be here after Jan. 1, so I don’t have a dog in the fight. Are there other people who work full time, but don’t take insurance; will you raise their pay?”

No one seconded Crawford’s motion, so it died.

“At least you gave us something to think about,” Councilman Merle Doogs told Crawford.

“I agree,” Councilman Chet Mathena said. “Ron, you did a lot of work, but I have the same opinion as Pete. It should go to the commissioners.”

Crawford said after the meeting that because he’d consulted with the AIC, “I thought this was the proper place to start” and he felt the Indiana Code chapter backed him up.

He said Friday he remained unconvinced the issue should be decided by the commissioners, and would check again with the AIC.