County gives bonuses in lieu of raises

Full-time workers employed by Bartholomew County will receive a one-time bonus this year to help offset escalating health care costs.

The Bartholomew County Council in a unanimous vote Tuesday approved giving all full-time employees who are benefit-eligible — an estimated 366 of them — a one-time payment of $750.

That move came after county councilman Mark Gorbett’s motion to grant county employees a 2 percent raise failed to receive a second.

Council members said full-time employees are expected to see both the amount of their contribution for health insurance and their annual deductible double next year.

“No, it’s not going to make up for all of it,” Gorbett said of the bonus. “But we are attempting to do something to show we do appreciate the hard work of the county employees.”

Brenda Mijares, office administrator for the Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office, told county officials that the health care crunch is hitting employees hard.

“I have two full-time employees who have to get part-time jobs because of the health care changes,” Mijares told council members. “That’s how much it’s hurting your employees.”

County Commissioners Chairman Larry Kleinhenz voiced his support for 2 percent raises.

The $750 bonus equals 2 percent of the salary for a county employee earning $35,000 annually, without increasing the worker’s salary on which percentage raises in future years would be based. The average yearly wage for county workers is $32,000, council members said.

The motion to provide the bonus was made by council member Chris Ogle and seconded by Jim Reed. Ogle requested that the bonuses be paid at the next available pay period.

The county’s cost to pay out the bonuses will be $212,199, Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman said.

While councilman Jorge Morales and Council President Evelyn Pence still had concerns. Both said they supported the bonus plan as a way to assure employees they are county government’s greatest asset.

Current forecasts suggest the county’s general fund to be $500,000 in the black at the beginning of next year, which is rosier than when budget talks began. However, two other factors came into play that council members said motivated them to consider bonuses or raises after they passed the 2016 budget.

One was $200,000 found through a state clerical error, Hackman said. In addition, it appears an equal amount of unspent funds will be returned to the general fund on Jan. 1, the auditor said.

“What I want to give is based on the revenue we have,” said Ogle, who admitted that while the bonus should cover increased employee contributions in 2016, it will not cover increases in deductibles.

A few reservations were expressed by Morales, who brought up $1.4 million originally targeted for roads next year that the county commissioners returned to the general fund to help resolve a fiscal crisis.

That transfer means the county will be able to repave only six or seven miles of roads in 2016 compared with almost 20 miles this year, Kleinhenz said.

But since such cutbacks can take place for only a year without major consequences to roads, other funds will have to be secured to make up for that $1.4 million in 2017, the commissioner said.

That likely will leave the council, which voted 5-2 to defeat a proposal to create a new tax last month, with little choice next year but to create a new revenue stream, Gorbett said.

Next month, the council will consider a one-time bonus for up to 90 part-time county employees who work 28 or fewer hours a week. Those workers, who receive no insurance benefits, earn $12.47 an hour. Hackman said.

At a glance

The following explains what a $750 bonus will mean for both county employees and county government.

Cost of bonus: $212,199.

Estimated cost of 2 percent raise: More than $250,000.  

Amount of unanticipated revenue identified in the past month: $400,000.

Impact on employee: The $750 bonus would equal a 2 percent wage increase for employees earning $35,000 annually. The average yearly wage for county workers is $32,000.

Impact on 2016 health insurance.  While there are a variety of medical plans, the bonus is expected to roughly cover additional out-of-pocket expenses for employees. However, it will not cover increased deductibles, which are expected to double next year. 

Source: Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman

Cost of insurance

Bartholomew County employee contributions this year cover about 7 percent of the plan’s health care costs. The employee portion is expected to go up to about 15 percent next year.   

For example, an employee who has a family plan who now pays $60 per paycheck would pay $120 to $130 next year. At the same time, deductibles for that same family coverage would go from $2,500 to $4,000, he said.

Source: Bartholomew County Commissioner Chairman Larry Kleinhenz

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.