New Proposal Could Save Cuts In Benefits

It's a plan that could cost Smith County employees more money, but keep their retirement benefits safe. Last week, county commissioners approved a preliminary budget that would cut benefits to all retirees, and put in jeopardy the benefits of those currently working for the county.

Monday morning, commissioners were presented with a new proposal. This one comes from an outside company, hired to evaluate the county's current health plan.

It calls for a number of changes to the plan, but would allow the county to maintain contributions to some retirees. First, employee contributions to the health plan would increase.  Right now, employees do not pay for their own coverage. Next, the plan calls for an adjustment in current benefit options. Some things would be taken away, but the plan would be on-par with the industry standard. And finally, deductible and co-insurance payments for employees would likely go up.

Without the changes, the current per employee, per month funding for the county is $631.83, for a yearly total of $5.5 million. With the changes, that funding goes down to $583.34 a month for a $5.1 million a year total. That's a difference of $400,000.

County Judge Becky Dempsey says cutting benefits to retirees was never a final option.

"That was the last thing that anybody wanted to look at and, as I stated, that was a tough recommendation that I had made to the court but as I also indicated that was a proposed budget and until the final budget is filed everything is up in the air."

No action was made on the proposal. A public hearing on the budget is set for Wednesday night. A final budget isn't set to be approved until next week.

Chris Gibson, reporting