Commissioners trim county budget

Published 3:27 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

Employees could see changes in health insurance

BEAUMONT — The Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court is trimming the fat from the 2015-16 fiscal year budget, one line item at a time.

In the month since commissioners held the first budget hearing, they’ve stayed firm — denying any raise or new employee request that isn’t 100 percent necessary to keep the county running and cutting down individual department requests “with a clear conscience.”

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County Auditor Patrick Swain said Monday morning the updated sales tax estimates are higher than they’ve been in previous months, but even if those figures stay the same — around $23 million — the county will “be about flat” at the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said he’s heard several “forecasts saying to expect a turn at the end of the year” and advised commissioners to “be careful.”

Swain said he thinks the commissioners have whittled down the budget enough to keep the current 36.5 cents tax rate — below the effective tax rate of 37.5 cents — but it’s time for the Commissioners’ Court to “make some final decisions about what to include in this budget.”

Commissioners said individual department cuts won’t make as big a dent as they’d like, so they set their sights on broader policies that impact all county employees.

After kicking around the idea to eliminate retiree health insurance for future employees at a workshop two weeks ago, the commisisoners revisited the county insurance policy Monday to “start finalizing decisions.”

Swain said one problem the commissioners could “cure” immediately is the “continually rising” cost for out-of-network medical providers.

“Like, 20 percent of our cost is out of network. That should be (below 10 percent),” he said. “Our individuals are going down in network facilities, and we’re getting charged a substantial amount more than if they’d use an in-network provider.”

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, County Commissioner for Precinct 3, said the county should educate its employees about the cost savings for seeing an in-network provider, in addition to requiring attendance at the county’s existing open enrollment workshops.

“We’re going to cure this problem,” Swain said. “We need more network penetration, so unless it is an emergency, we will not pay for out-of-network providers anymore.”

Swain said ultimately, the county will have to look at switching health isurance plans to really see a difference in the county health care budget.

“Health care, as you all know, has changed dramatically over the last few years and everyone, nationwide, is trying to figure out how to get through it,” Swain said. “And we have to prepare for what’s happening, locally, with hospitals everywhere setting up stand-alone family practices and emergency rooms. Who knows how those will get covered?

“Our health insurance has a 7.5 percent increase, effective Jan. 1, 2016. It’s going to take a plan change to fix this. We’ll come up with a plan of what we’re going to offer in our Jefferson County medical plan next year (for the 2016-17 fiscal year). You can opt not to take it, but we will go through plans for a recommendation. We have to keep up with the trend of medical insurance going up. At 7.5 percent for this new fiscal year, we should be able to stop the bleeding.”

Twitter: @crhenderson90