Russell County administrator prioritizes health coverage over employee raises

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By Blenda Copeland

It was a tough decision, Russell County Administrator LeAnn Horne explained Monday to a room full of people.

As she read aloud a proposed Fiscal Year ’18-’19 budget synopsis, she stressed that she felt the county still covering 100 percent of county employees’ health insurance costs was more effective than giving across-the-board raises to all employees.

She said it’s the first time in 15 years the employees haven’t received a raise, but the revenue increases simply aren’t there to support raises for everyone. Given the tough choice, she felt employees would value their health insurance being covered at 100 percent more than getting a raise this coming fiscal year – that the health insurance coverage was “more important.”

“We are at the bare bones,” Horne said in explaining the county’s operations.

“It was a very hard decision,” she added, noting that she didn’t see how it would be fair, for example, to give employees a two percent pay increase and then ask those same employees to pay five percent toward their employer-provided health insurance.

She added that if the commission decided to go a different direction from Horne’s suggestion, it would require “significant budget cuts” to achieve two percent raises across the board.

Horne also added that she didn’t want any county employees thinking that they were not appreciated for their service; it’s just that the money isn’t there at this time for the mass raises.

Meanwhile, for the first time, leaders of local agencies were required to briefly introduce themselves and their agencies to the commission to help commissioners “put a face and a name” with non-profit that had requested appropriations from the upcoming budget.

During the presentations, the general theme of commissioners’ responses was that it’s hard to justify increases to non-profit allocations when the commission already has faced the tough decision of not being able to give county employees raises. The agency leaders acknowledged that they understood but would be grateful for whatever funds the commission could allot to their causes.

The commission was set to meet Wednesday after Citizen press time to discuss the budget further if needed.