Heres something you dont see every day in local government: Union County commissioners killed one of their own perks.
In this case, the perk was health insurance coverage for commissioners and their dependents. The five-member board recently unanimously voted to end the coverage for themselves and for future boards.
County Commissioner Todd Johnson, who proposed the plan, said the move made sense during lean budget times when the board is asking other county departments to make their own reductions.
This is the only part-time job I know of where the health benefits are paid by the citizens, and I dont think its the right thing to do, Johnson told the board before their vote. Its hard for me to tell any other department that we have to cut your budget if were not willing to let the cuts start with us.
Commissioner Richard Helms agreed, saying, We are part-time employees, and there is no other part-time employee in the county that is eligible for health insurance.
Johnson, who is president of a local insurance agency, said in an interview that when he came onto the board in late 2010, he was surprised to learn the county offered a health insurance option for commissioners. When they said I needed to fill out my health insurance paperwork, I said, Do what?
The county covers 100 percent of healthcare premiums for board members and 50 percent of the premiums for their dependents.
Johnson said he voluntarily opted not to take the coverage, and unsuccessfully tried to have the board eliminate the benefit in 2011. But the board recently added Helms and another new commissioner, who agreed with Johnson and the other members that it was time to end the practice.
The change will take effect soon, possibly before the end of the fiscal year June 30, County Manager Cindy Coto said.
The county estimated that the net reduction in the new budget from dropping the healthcare coverage will range between $7,812 to $13,620 for each of the five commissioners. The range reflects different insurance options available to board members.
A check of N.C. newspapers for the past five years did not turn up any information about other county commissioners taking such a step.
Some boards of commissioners in the Charlotte region are eligible to receive health insurance coverage, including in Mecklenburg, Iredell and Gaston counties. Mecklenburg covers commissioners premiums, but the other counties do not.
There also has been no discussion about ending the benefits, officials said.
Commissioners in Cabarrus and Lincoln counties are not eligible for coverage by the county health insurance plan.
Researcher Maria David contributed to this article.