In an emotional meeting Thursday morning, Hill County Commissioners voted 2-0, with Diane McLean abstaining, to leave health insurance rates for county employees at the same levels as last year.
Instead, the county will launch an effort to convince voters to approve a mill levy in the November election.
McLean, before abstaining on the motion to retain the existing rates, said she had been “smeared and vilified” by employees for the proposal that she said would bring down the cost to taxpayers for the county’s health insurance plan.
While employees who cover just themselves on the county’s plan would have seen no cost increase under McLean’s proposal, she said, those who want to cover their spouse and children would have seen a substantial hike.
Under McLean’s plan, the average increase for an employee who covers his or her family would have been about $250 a month, although it would have increased $293 a month for people with top-tier coverage.
However, the savings to taxpayers would have averaged just $7 per household, opponents said.
The proposal created a firestorm of controversy in county government circles.
McLean’s voice cracked with emotion as she said she’d been called names and was the subject of massive disinformation campaigns since she unveiled her plan at last week’s commissioners’ meeting.
She said “social justice warriors” on the internet made accusations and spread false information around the county. She said she would not vote for Commissioner Mark Peterson’s substitute motion to keep the rates the same.
McLean said she received several hate emails. She said only two department heads and no rank-and-file workers stopped at her office to ask about the proposal.
Commissioner Mike Wendland said commissioners were overwhelmed with comments from people opposed to the idea from the start.
Peterson said he had asked for letters and emails on the subject, “and did I ever get them.” Except for a couple, they were respectful, he said.
Peterson said he is proposing that a mill levy be placed on the ballot to raise money for needed county projects.
Several years ago, when the bonds for the county detention center were paid off, there was a referendum to move that money over to pay for technology updates and other county undertakings. That was defeated by voters.
“People were telling me they didn’t want a tax increase,” Peterson said, “although it wasn’t really a tax increase.”
But several county officials said a public education campaign was needed.
Peterson said he made several failed attempts to get local media to cover the levy proposal without success. He said he eventually wrote a letter to the editor, but by then many ballots already had been returned to the clerk and recorder’s office.
Since then, he said, the county’s fiscal situation has worsened. The county has lost roughly $1.6 million annually in natural gas revenues.
Peterson said department heads have done a good job of getting along with less money, making things stretch as much as possible. But those kinds of economies can’t go on forever, he said, and more modern technology is needed.
County employees feel their basic pay schedule is below par, Peterson said.
A public meeting to discuss these issues will be held in the near future, he said.
The commissioners, the county treasurer, and the clerk and recorder will hold the meeting and invite the county workforce and the public for input. A date has not been set.
Write to John Kelleher at firstname.lastname@example.org