County denies requests for insurance, vacation hikes

NEW ULM – Brown County commissioners unanimously denied a pair of Personnel Policy Committee recommendations Tuesday that would have given county employees lower health insurance costs and more accrued vacation time.

Under the first recommendation,which would have been effective Jan. 1, 2015, the County would contribute 95 percent toward monthly single coverage insurance and 75 percent of monthly family premiums.

The proposal was estimated to cost the County an additional $149,645. Personnel Director Mike Furth said staff favored this proposal more than any other.

“It’s important to our staff and a large monetary amount,” Commissioner Dick Seeboth said. “It’s something we have to consider on down the road, but to snap it in now, I can’t support it.”

Commissioner Dennis Potter agreed, saying he preferred negotiating to fit it in the next salary package.

“If you take this out of wages, it hits everyone but not everyone gets insurance coverage,” Commissioner Andy Lochner said. “I’d rather see all employees get a benefit.”

The second recommendation would have added an hour of employee vacation accrual per month, based on survey findings in Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, Watonwan, Kandiyohi, Le Sueur, Faribault, Murray, Redwood, McLeod, Nicollet, Lyon, Benton and Martin counties. Vacation hours are capped at 200 hours a year.

“I’d prefer a paid time off (PTO) solution instead of separate sick and vacation time,” Lochner said.

Furth said PTO doesn’t have “much traction in most state counties.”

Commissioners approved allowing department heads, supervisors, along with employee input, scheduling other hours of work (flex time) as long as there is sufficient office coverage.

The County will contribute $451.87 a month for single premium costs and $1,144.83 for family premium costs for high-deductible medical health insurance with HSA plans, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Military veterans not eligible for an HSA will receive $1,250 annually as part of the County’s contribution to premium cost in lieu of HSA money.

Employees on official business will receive a maximum of $40 per day for meals including tips, $30 on the departure day; accrued sick leave may also be used to care for an ill or injured grandchild, or to deal with sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking; up to 12 weeks of leave without pay will be granted for all employees having or adopting a child; and employees not awarded step increases at the time of evaluation, may be eligible to receive them at a later date.

In other action, commissioners approved:

A plan for safeguarding federal tax information policy and procedure in the Family Services office. A Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) bulletin in February called for an overhaul and many new procedures regarding safekeeping of federal tax information.

A $688,700 2015 Heartland Express operating budget. The budget includes a $72,000 capital expense for a replacement bus and a 2015 contract with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The contract continues to cover 85 percent of approved operating expenses and 80 percent of approval capital costs. The local cost share comes from fare box and system revenues. Brown County transit reserves are estimated to be about $31,600 at the end of 2014.

A request by Brown County Income Maintenance Supervisor Theresa Schroeder to buy six New Ulm Cemetery graves at $650 each, a $50 discount for each grave. Cremation is increasing in popularity, but traditional funerals requiring full grave sites are still taking place.

So far in 2014, Brown County has spent $20,273 for county funerals. The budgeted amount is $26,500. The $3,900 cost for the new graves would be added to county funeral budget expenses.

Simplex Grinnell’s $19,225 quote for replacement of the Law Enforcement Center’s outdated Simplex fire alarm main control panel with the County’s portion of the cost estimated at $14,651. The remaining 23.79 percent of the cost will be paid by the City of New Ulm.

Replacement parts are no longer available in the event of fire alarm main control panel failure. The jail fire alarm control panel will also be reviewed for updating if necessary.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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