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Board shelves health change
Official: Could come back up
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Forsyth County News


Changes that would extend outgoing elected officials’ health benefits are off the table for now.

Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam executed his authority as chairman Thursday to remove an agenda item addressing longer health care eligibility for elected officials.

“I received some communication from some of my fellow board members — and I tend to agree with them — that not enough information was presented,” Tam said after Thursday’s meeting.

Commissioners gave initial approval to some changes in health care benefits for outgoing elected officials during a Sept. 27 work session.

The current rule allows Forsyth’s 14 elected positions to continue on the county’s plan at employee rates for one year after leaving office if they aren’t eligible for Medicare or another plan, said Pat Carson, county personnel services director.

The proposed changes would have allowed the officials to stay on the county’s plan at employee rates for one year for each year served in office, assuming at least one full term was completed.

After that, former officials could continue on the county plan at the raised retiree rates until becoming eligible for another plan or Medicare, which kicks in at age 65.

After the meeting, Commissioner Patrick Bell noted that the proposal was less intensive in scope than what was in place when he took office in January 2009.

Information provided by Carson shows the county adopted the current policy in March 2010.

Prior to that, elected officials could continue on the plan until becoming eligible for Medicare or other coverage, without further caveat. That plan was put in place in November 2004.

The policy switch in 2010 came about for “political reasons,” Bell said.

“We were trying to restore what was taken away,” Bell said, “and put back into place what was less of a benefit than what was there.”

He said perhaps the board needs to review the total package for commissioners, including salary and benefits, to best reflect the job.

“The reality is to serve in public office is a tremendous sacrifice to yourself, your business, your personal life,” Bell said. “I believe there ought to be some type of plan.”

The health care plan may come back under review at some point in time, Bell said.

Discussion on the subject could return, though not for at least 60 days, said County Attorney Ken Jarrard. He cited board rules related to the chairman’s removal of an item.

“It does not automatically return,” Jarrard said, adding that after the minimum 60 days, two commissioners could add the item to an agenda, as is the norm.

Commissioners Pete Amos and Bell agreed with Tam’s removal of the item from Thursday’s agenda, while Jim Boff and Todd Levent opted not to remove it.

Levent said was “for the purpose of defeating it.”

Boff did not indicate his reason.

Though the item was removed from the agenda, five residents voiced their concern — or disdain — for the proposal during public comments.

Ralph Stepp called the board’s consideration “selfish.”

“Have you forgotten that you work for the people, not for yourselves,” Stepp said.

One resident said the public appreciates the officials’ work, but that most people are struggling with their own job benefits now.

“The expense of the burden is put on me to support you through your retirement,” Kalar said. “I ask that you be good stewards of the tax dollars here in Forsyth County.”

Former Commissioner Jim Harrell called the proposal “irresponsible,” and Forsyth County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sharon Gunter called it “preposterous.”

Speaking personally, Ethan Underwood agreed with the board’s removal of the item from discussion.

Though Underwood noted that the board had a better out-of-office package up until March 2010, he said the switch to the current policy was “a good change.”

If the compensation for elected officials isn’t appropriate while in office, that should be opened to public debate, he said.

“We understand you all do a lot of work. Quite candidly, you do a full-time job, and we give you half-time pay,” Underwood said.

“The folks that serve ought to be compensated accurately … It’s important to get good folks and compensate them, but I would respectfully request that we stick to the principle that once folks complete their term in office, we need to transition back to private life.”