At today’s meeting the BOC voted on a budget of $115.5 million. That gives a $10 million+ hole. There was only one vote against rasing the budget to this level. Commissioner Brian Preston of District 2 voted against increasing the budget to such lofty levels and proposed $110 million budget.
Funny part was when Democrat Commissioner Bruce Holmes voted against the increase of the budget. Once Holmes found out it was raising the budget to cover furloughs and pads it for other increases he wanted, Holmes changed his vote to approval. He liked spending more money as did the other three Republicans that voted for passage.
What we are seeing is the Obamazation of Henry County via “Republicans.” This action will most likely include a tax rate hike. However as Commissioners Warren Holder and Reid Bowman pointed out the tax payers won’t know that until after the July elections because they don’t set the rate until August. This is known as pulling a Pelosi because “ we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
At yesterday’s Henry County, GA budget meeting they touched on many topics, from no furlough days, to raises, to benefits, to supplemental pay. County Manager Fred Auletta laid out the budget in detail. Auletta placed in front of the board what each member had asked about, he covered what the review panel had asked questions on. Auletta created a menu of options for the board to consider.
The raw number for the budget as a starting point is $115.5 million. As you add bells and whistles on top of the baseline the budget grows and the hole deepens.
If the commissioners want no furlough days tack on $1.13 million. Each day is worth $281,685 dollars. If you take the pay increase for public safety as part of your likings then add $2.35 million. If you feel you cannot justify giving public safety a pay raise without giving other employees a raise then tack on another $425,000.
Just recall the $115.5 million dollar budget has a giant hole of $10.1 million to begin with so as each commissioner decides what needs to be added they dig the hole deeper.
Commissioner Brain Preston seemed to be the only commissioner engaged in the process of figuring out some way to not put the entire burden of the 30% tax rate increase on the backs of the property owners. Preston urged a sensible approach where the county, the tax payer, and the employees all shared in the pain of the down trend in the economy.
All the board members agreed to Preston’s idea of taking money from the county savings. That part was easy, even Democrat Commissioner Bruce Holmes who seemed to be bored to tears agreed. Holmes stated he would support moving money from the savings and raising taxes for no furloughs, not pay cuts, raises and no benefits cuts – spoken like a true tax and spend Democrat.
What other commissioners had a problem with was modernizing the benefits for the county. That is code for taking the Bugatti Veyron plans to Enzo Ferrari plans.
Henry has some of the best benefits in the state paid to our county employees. The health insurance is a prime example. Up until this new budget an employee could have their entire family covered 100%, no deductibles, no copayments for $318. The county picked up the other $996 of cost. The monthly cost on that plan was just under $100,000 a month for 189 employees. With insurance premiums going up again for the county this option will not be offered.
The new plan shows an 85%/15% with a $500 family deductible at a cost to employee of $140 and the county will pay the remaining $996. There are other options.
Preston showed that by modernizing the health benefit plan and still being one of the best in the metro area the county could save $1.375 million. This would be done through a combination of increasing the employee rate of contribution, adding tobacco-user surcharges in line with other counties, and spousal surcharge equal to other counties.
It was interesting to see the reaction of Reid Bowman and Warren Holder on the topic of surcharges. Bowman made the statement about charging why single out tobacco users only, why not overweight employees too? He also said the county should pay employees if they do not use the health insurance if we penalize those spouse that do. Preston did point out the fact the spousal surcharge would be for those who have insurance at other employment that do not use it because the county has such great benefits. It is a common practice.
The retirement benefit is also one the best in the area. It was glazed over quickly with Auletta stating the plan started off with a $20 million dollar hole that has to be funded. The plan has had some losses and they have been using higher rates of returns in the calculations, 7.5% that most believe to be unattainable on the longer term for such a plan.
Today an article entitled States Scaling Back Worker Pensions to Save Money states:
“What we’re doing today is not sustainable. Part of the reason we’re in this hole is for too many years, politicians made promises without paying for those promises,” Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana.
Louisiana is looking to change their benefits:
“Jindal wants to raise the contribution rate for current state workers and public college employees from 8 percent to 11 percent of their pay. He also wants to push the retirement age from as early as 55 for current workers to as late as age 67, depending on how many years they’ve been in the system and their age. He’s seeking to create a cheaper 401(k)-style of pension plan for new hires.”
Dare say our politicians have done the same but instead of looking at options to fix the giant hole they will ignore it because of lack of will. These options that Louisiana and other states have to make are the exact same ones Henry needs to make. We just need the commissioners to man up and take care of the problem instead of strapping on a Band-Aid. Revamping the retirement plan could save a million or more a year on the budget.
Preston was the only one willing to discuss the benefits and making changes and was shunned.
Here’s the menu again, raise rates 2.5 mils to cover the hole. Add all the bells and whistles and it goes to 3.47 mil addition. Four of the five sitting commissioners stated they were not for the full 30% tax increase. They all stated they were for pulling money out of the bank equal to a mil (estimated value of $4 million.) That makes the $10 million hole $6 million however now we add on the bells and whistles to the baseline. If they go all in damn the torpedoes then it’s a 2.47 mil increase. If they act like Republicans and run the government like a business (how many times have we heard that?) then we see reductions using Preston’s three prong approach and cut from $6 million to $4.74 million before they touch the Bugatti Veyron retirement plan.
That $4.74 million can be covered with a little more than a 1 mil increase. When we take into consideration the hospital 1 mil is going away this year then the net is a very minor increase to tax payers. We’ll see what the commissioners do today.
Preston showed how to reduce the budget hole where all feel some pain. No one gets laid off. The burden is not shifted all to the tax payers and the county keeps its services intact. Henry County could benefit in keeping Preston on the BOC. District 2 of Henry County should come out in force and support his re-election efforts. The only other announced candidate is talking about nothing but raising taxes and spending more money the county does not have. They have not shown any thought to fiscal responsibility and sounds more like the Democrat in the 5th.