Wood County Commission discusses retiree benefits

Bid request for communication equipment OK’d

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County administrator Marty Seufer, bottom right, discusses the county’s retiree benefit expenses with, from left, Commissioners Bob Tebay, Steve Gainer and Blair Couch Thursday during the commission’s regular meeting.

PARKERSBURG — Retiree benefits are taking a bite out of Wood County’s budget.

“Our cost per month is over $35,000 … to provide, in some cases, benefits they don’t even use,” county Commissioner Blair Couch said.

The costs were an item on the agenda for Thursday’s commission meeting.

“It’s going to get a lot bigger because you’ve got two people retiring under 60,” county administrator Marty Seufer said.

The coverage includes dental and vision, for which current employees must pay extra, and can also cover spouses, Couch said. That’s beyond what many counties offer.

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County 911 Center director Rick Woodyard outlines his request for approval of funding to purchase receivers to expand radio coverage in the county during Thursday’s county commission meeting.

“This is a richer benefit than state retirees get,” Couch said.

Some counties offer a single plan, with retirees having to pay for additional coverage, Seufer said.

“And then there’s some counties that provide nothing,” Couch said after the meeting.

In some cases, the county-funded benefits aren’t even utilized because Medicare pays first, Couch said.

Commissioners have been unable to get statistics about use of the coverage from the Public Employees Insurance Agency, he said, so they asked Seufer to send out a questionnaire to retirees. Cost-saving adjustments could affect not only benefits for future retirees but also the ones already receiving the coverage, Couch said.

“I don’t think any retiree has the assumption that it will last forever,” he said.

“A lifetime worth of benefits has hurt so many businesses,” Couch said. “It has to be addressed. It has to be discussed. We don’t want to harm anybody. But there are less expensive options out there in the private market.”

In other business, commissioners voted 3-0 to allow 911 Center director Rick Woodyard to seek bids for receiver equipment to expand radio coverage for fire departments, sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical services in the Belleville and eastern Mineral Wells areas. The estimated cost is $35,550, which would come from the center’s capital reserve account, Woodyard said.

The Mineral Wells location would also enhance coverage in the Slate and Leachtown/Walker areas, according to documents submitted by Woodyard. The other site would improve critical communications from Belleville to Wadesville.

“I think we really need to expand those receiver sites … to beef up those two areas,” Woodyard said.

Completing these projects in the upcoming year would allow county officials to turn their attention in fiscal year 2017-18 to fitting the radio system with simulcast capabilities, Woodyard said. That would allow agencies to transmit from multiple towers instead of a single one, which would further improve communication capabilities and avoid problems if one tower goes down.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the hiring of six employees to fill vacancies: Jeremy Wolfe as assistant prosecutor, taking the place of Pat Lefebure, who was elected prosecutor; Vienna Finance Director Steve Black as chief tax deputy for Sheriff-elect Steve Stephens; Donna Bowman, Barbara Kuhl and Derek Wilson as dispatchers; and Sandy Stephens, moving from the sheriff’s department to a vacant post in the assessor’s office since her husband was elected sheriff.

The appointments of Patsy Hardy to the Wood County Parks and Recreation Commission and Dan Marshall to the Wood County Building Commission also were unanimously approved.