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Editorial: Department heads key to deciding cuts for part-timers

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Bartholomew County officials have come under fire in recent weeks for an action they haven’t taken.

Letters to the editor and public comments have been critical of a variety of proposals that have only been floated to date about how to handle the status of part-time workers when the federal Affordable Care Act goes into effect.

Under provisions of the law, employers are required to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 or more hours each week.

There are 40 county employees who now work more than 30 hours a week but less than 40. County Auditor Barb Hackman estimates the cost to insure all 40 of those part-time workers would be about $560,000.

That would seem to make this situation a fiscal matter, but it also has become an emotional one, especially around suggestions that hours of some or all part-time employees be cut to less than 30 per week to avoid paying the insurance fees.

It is important to recognize that this quandary was imposed upon current county officials by the federal law and by hiring policies of past county governments.

Both County Council President Jorge Morales and commissioners Carl Lienhoop and Larry Kleinhenz have questioned previous hiring practices in which workers were taken on to work up to but not at or more than the 40-hour workweek simply to avoid having to pay for their health benefits.

While it appears inevitable that some part-time workers will have their hours cut to less than 30 per week, Lienhoop, Kleinhenz and Morales have suggested that the situation should be guided by individual department heads who would have to make the case for determining the status of each of the employees in their areas.

This is definitely not the time for the commissioners or the council to impose across-the-board arbitrary cuts.

Department heads must be integral to any final decisions as they relate to their departments. It is up to the council to determine how to pay for the result.

Two of the principles that should guide officials through this process are to keep the county’s fiscal house in order and to be fair to employees.

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