Wood County Commission talks insurance issues

PARKERSBURG — Some county employees will have a month to decide if they want to retire and maintain their insurance coverage after the commission approved a resolution reaffirming how insurance coverage for retirees was figured and who would be able to receive it.

The Wood County Commission unanimously adopted the resolution that spells out who is entitled to health coverage under the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency rules after they retire, based on what the county has already paid into it, and who will not be eligible.

Under the resolution, current retirees under the PEIA plan will continue to receive county support for the coverage; current retirees and active employees who were employed for at least five years prior to the commission’s withdrawal from the PEIA plan in September 1991 will continue to receive their support from the county for coverage; and employees hired before July 1, 1998, and who have been continuously employed by the commission will receive coverage based on the commission paying the least expensive option offered by PEIA. Under this option, the commission will not contribute to the cost of coverage for dependents and the commission will no longer contribute to the cost of overage once the employee reaches the age of 65 and the retirees would be responsible for the cost of coverage exceeding the contributions made by the commission.

The policy will go into effect Aug. 1, 2017, to allow current employees eligible for retiree coverage to determine what they will do, whether they decide to go ahead and retire now to maintain certain benefits. A notice will be sent to employees explaining the policy.

A group of 11 employees attended Thursday’s commission meeting. Many of them said they believed they would have that coverage when they retired.

Commission President Blair Couch said this change in policy came as the commission has been trying to control costs as the county’s finances have become tighter.

They have noticed he amounts being paid for coverage for some retirees with some costing around $1,400 a month.

Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes said the county pays more than $19,000 a month for retiree insurance coverage.

“We pay $22,500 (to the Humane Society) to take care of stray dogs and cats,” he said. “I say cut the Humane Society and keep the retirees.”

Couch said support to the Humane Society is mandated by state law. The county has had to take on more responsibility in covering the Humane Society since the City of Parkersburg cut the extra support it was providing to them.

Commissioners said the county has been paying out large sums of money for coverage where in some instances the retiree did not know they had the coverage and have not used it. In other instances, the retiree is successful in other aspects of their lives and could afford coverage on their own. For many, when they reach 65-years-old, federal medical coverage for many seniors comes into play.

County Administrator Marty Seufer said he was hired in 2001 and was told upfront he would not be eligible for this retiree coverage. The resolution states the commission never promised retiree health coverage under any plan.

Other employees who were present at the meeting said they have remained loyal employees and had to go without pay raises for years and made other sacrifices with the belief that they would be getting insurance coverage after they retire.

“They need to have something,” Wood County Circuit Clerk Carole Jones said.

The fear is they will start losing experienced employees.

Rhodes indicated he didn’t want to lose some of the people impacted by this measure, if people had to retire now to get their benefits.

“That is a lot of experience that hopefully will remain around for another 3-4 years,” he said.

In other business, the commission met individually with representatives of Piper Jaffray, Crews and Associates Inc., United Bank and WesBanco Bank Inc. to discuss refinancing their recovery zone bonds for the Wood County Justice Center.

After the presentation, the commission met in an executive session with bond attorney Dan Marshall to discuss “county finances.” No decision was made and the matter is expected to be put on the commission’s agenda next week for the commission to take formal action on.

“We have been told, and rightly so, that there were better rates if we went out and refinanced,” Couch said. “We will save money.”

With the number of financial challenges facing the county, including with the issue of retiree insurance coverage, the need has come to make a concerted effort to cut expenses.

“We need to save money regardless of what anyone thinks,” Couch said. “We are trying to avoid having to increase taxes again and again or having to lay off people.”

Tebay had been tracking interest rates and informed the commission recently that this would be the time to refinance.

“We know we are going to save money,” Couch said. “We are not sure how much.

“It is a tough time financially for Wood County and we will find every way we can to find money. Some of them aren’t going to be real popular and some are going to be real difficult.”

The county had already cut funding to outside agencies, some as much as 50 percent.

“We may have to make further cuts,” Couch said.

They have a person specifically auditing the county’s jail bill to find credits owed which has already found over $100,000 in credits owed back to the county.

Couch said the county is taking these steps now to be bettered prepared down the line.

“Maybe in the next couple of years, we will be in a better shape,” he said. “Making those moves now, while we still have the ability to do what we can do may give us the ability someday to go back out into the community and help those organizations again that have relied on us.

“It is not easy to do.”