County supervisors, department leaders take benefit cuts
The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to reduce benefits for themselves and other salaried county leaders last week.
Two weeks after county officers blasted the supervisors and budget officer Jack Ingstad for the pay cut process, the mood during the meeting Tuesday, April 3, was somewhat subdued.
Chairman Robert Meacher, who is leaving the board in December after 20 years on the job, broke a long silence after the vote.
“You know, after sitting here 20 years, this is a hell of a legacy. I wanted to leave this county in better shape,” Meacher said. “This is not any fault of this board’s. It’s just very unpleasant.”
The cuts were approved during the fiscal 2011-12 budget process to help the county close a million-dollar deficit. But they hadn’t been adopted.
Last month, Ingstad warned that the county could be facing a similar deficit next year.
The ordinances and resolutions, which were to be adopted at the meeting Tuesday, April 10, reduce the county’s contribution to the employees’ retirement fund. Employees will also pay current and future medical insurance increases.
The cuts mirror the concessions accepted by the county’s largest employee union months ago.
County officials — both elected and appointed, with the exception of the sheriff — will begin paying 3 percent of the 7 percent retirement contribution. The county has been paying the full 7 percent.
The sheriff’s department, which has 10 unfilled deputy positions, contributed $250,000 from its budget to the county’s general fund. That concession spared the department from benefit cuts for this year only.
Elected officials, who had the option of negotiating individually, collectively agreed to the same cuts. They plan to meet with county counsel to have their contracts amended.
The ordinance also reduces the benefits for future elected officials.
Supervisor Lori Simpson, who was an employee union leader before becoming an elected official, has been on both sides of the negotiation process.
“From someone who was a labor negotiator, I’m not too happy about having to do this,” Simpson said. “But it had to be done.”
“I understand,” Meacher said. “And I think our employees understand.”
“None of us like it,” Supervisor Terry Swofford added.
The county department heads said they knew the cuts were coming. But several of them sharply criticized the county when the contract amendments were placed on the March 20 agenda.
They were collectively upset that they were given just five days notice and were allotted only 20 minutes of discussion.
The heated discussion ended up lasting nearly 90 minutes. Most of the department heads’ frustration was directed at Ingstad over an email sent to department heads that stated, in part, “If a department head declines the amendment, the board will need to give notice of termination to the employee.”
Ingstad was on vacation and didn’t attend the April 3 board meeting. He was scheduled to have a performance evaluation by the board during closed session before Tuesday’s scheduled meeting.
Ingstad said March 23 he was prepared to resign if he didn’t have the supervisors’ support.