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County considers capping hours in response to health care regulations

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Bartholomew County officials are looking to limit part-time county employees to 25 hours a week, avoiding awarding of health care benefits to current part-timers who average more than 30 hours a week.

The change, which would be made in response to the upcoming regulations under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, would affect 40 to 45 county employees. The county could cap part-timers’ hours at 25.

Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop said Monday that national health care changes that take effect next year will have a one-year look-back period, which means changes in hours worked will have to be implemented this year.

Currently, county employees are considered full-time for benefit purposes when they average 40 hours per week.

Other business

In other business, Bartholomew County Commissioners on Monday:

Approved a $1,611 contract with Secure Tek Systems Inc., of Irvine, Texas, to service the panic buttons installed in county offices in the Governmental Office Building, 440 Third St. Commissioners said all of the offices have the buttons that will alert deputies to problems or to threats against the officeholders or staff. The contract includes two years of maintenance including replacing the battery packs, testing the system and an extended warranty.

Appointed Chris McKinney and reappointed Dennis Brooks to serve on the Bartholomew County Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

Agreed to ask the county surveyor to stake out the property line of an alley in Newbern. The boundaries of the alley west of Clifty Street have been in dispute and commissioners felt that staking the property would solve the issue.

If you go

What: Bartholomew County Council

When: 6 p.m., tonight

Where: Council Chambers in Governmental Office Building, 440 Third St.

Agenda: Property tax abatement for George Utz Inc.; additional appropriations for Superior Court 2 Jury Supplemental Fund, Local Health Department Trust Fund and Drug Free Substance Abuse Council; discussion of amendment to 2013 salary ordinance.

“The gist of it is, is whether we are working a bunch of people 39 hours and calling it part time,” Lienhoop said. “That is not allowed in the new health care initiative.”

County Commissioners tabled a discussion of the county’s personnel policies during Monday morning’s commissioners meeting. The County Council will consider a corresponding change to the county’s salary ordinance at its meeting tonight.

County Attorney Grant Tucker said other county benefits, such as sick time and vacation days, begin accruing when employees work more than 25 hours a week. The County Council proposed that all part-time employees would be limited to 25 hours to avoid conflict with the Obamacare directive and to match the other county benefits.

Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said he believes the county should stick to the 25-hour plan. But he warned it could create hardships for some county offices who have professional employees, such as nurses, who would not want their hours cut to 25 a week.

“We are going to have a bunch of employees who qualify for full-time benefits if we are not careful,” Kleinhenz said.

Lienhoop, Kleinhenz and Tucker suggested that if an employee were so essential that more than 25 hours were needed, the county should consider making the position full time. Lienhoop said he was morally opposed to working an employee only 39 hours a week, just to avoid paying benefits.

Lienhoop said the proposal would not affect seasonal or temporary employees but only permanent part-time employees.

The county’s salary ordinance was approved last summer, before county officials were aware that the part-time changes would be required, Lienhoop said.

The county’s health insurance administrator began receiving memos from Washington, D.C., shortly after the November election, explaining how and when the national health reform rules would go into effect.

“In the council’s defense, they acted on the feeling that 2013 could be a year just like the past,” Lienhoop said.

Commissioners agreed to table the discussion of the personnel policy changes until the County Council could consider the corresponding salary ordinance changes tonight. The ordinance would have to be approved twice by commissioners before it went into effect.

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