County commission should let go of rich health benefits
For Wayne County commissioners, tomorrow is their last formal day of work for the year before they head off on an extended Christmas vacation. Before they go, they should revisit the concept of shared sacrifice.
Earlier this fall the commissioners approved new contracts that stripped 4,000 union members of their retiree health care plans, replacing them with monthly stipends of between $130 and $700, depending on age and earnings.
But the commission last month excused itself from the concessions, choosing instead to keep its health care plan intact. For those commissioners elected before 2011 and who serve at least two terms — 9 of the 15 — that means they’ll get the same health care as active employees for the rest of their lives, as soon as they leave office.
The commission extended the sacrifice exemption to top county appointees, including those of County Executive Warren Evans, who has eliminated the benefit for his staffers by executive order. Somewhere between 100 and 200 elected officials and appointees are covered, according to Evans’ office.
The county executive is asking the commission today to give taxpayers an early Christmas present and fall in line with the rest of non-uniformed county employees and accept the lesser retiree health insurance package.
“They’ve passed it for everyone else, but when it comes to themselves, it’s a different story,” Evans says, adding that while the cost savings aren’t huge, “the symbolism is important.”
He’s right about that. It’s despicable to ask employees who earn far less than the commissioners’ $70,000 a year salary (for part-time work) to give back for the good of the county, and then not do the same themselves.
For Evans, there’s also a strategic reason for taking away the commissioners’ special deal, because he’s also asking them to approve a proposal to reduce retiree health care costs for about 1,000 so-called “mirror employees.”
These are union workers who retired from the county between 2007 and 2015, when contracts guaranteed retirees would get the same insurance benefits as active workers.
That’s a much bigger deal. Folding the mirror employees into the new health insurance structure would reduce the county’s unfunded health care liability by roughly $250 million. The obligation now stands at $481 million, down from $1.3 billion before the concessions agreements were reached.
Wayne County is operating under a consent agreement from the state aimed at keeping it out of bankruptcy. Evans is asking for a joint resolution from the commission that he says would shield the county from lawsuits from those who lose benefits.
Or commissioners could simply reverse the self-serving ordinance they passed last month and Evans can impose the health insurance switch.
Wayne County is in the financial mess it is in today because its political leaders were more focused on enriching themselves than serving the interests of residents.
These current commissioners continue to hang onto the gravy train with both hands. It’s time either they let go, or voters booted them off.