Wednesday, October 20, 2010


For the last two days, the SCPR has done blogs on the fact that Stark County - over the years - has negotiated with its union-represented workforce for the county "to pick" a portion of that part of state mandated Ohio Public Employees System (OPERS) employee contributions as being the employee's share.

Now The Report learns that nearly 2400 county employees enjoy health care benefits "that is a bit rich" (according to one county official in a position to know) when compared to everyday Stark Countians who have health care benefits through their private employers or who buy them on their own. 

The spreadsheet above shows that - by conservative estimates - (because the county has some employees who pay only 3% of their health care insurance premiums) Stark County is likely overpaying by some $1.4 million when comparing what you and I have as health care insurance benefits according to average health care insurance plans published by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

County commissioner candidate James N. Walters (Republican - Jackson Township) brought the disparity to The Report's attention. 

Who is to blame for a failure in stewardship of county funds to the Stark County taxpayers?

In general, the Stark County commissioners, but probably not any of the current commissioners.

Stark County is a "self-insured" entity (meaning the county pays any and all claims) and only gets AultCare and Summa involved to do the administration of the claims at rates of $13.95 and $19.25 respectively per claim.  So far this year there have been 200 Summa-administered claims and 1100 AultCare administrated claims.

The Stark County Political Report believes that the most culpable former commissioners - in terms of oversight failure -  have been Republicans Jane Vignos, Richard Regula and John Dougherty as well as Democrat Gayle Jackson (who is now a lottery commission employee at the appointment of Governor Strickland).

The SCPR has learned that when commissioners appointed former Repository managing editor Michael Hanke as chief administrator in 2007, he was told about "the rich health care benefits" that county employees were getting and that he wanted to pursue a retrenchment to scale down benefits.

Apparently, only Hanke (and his county administrative support staff) foresaw that the county did not have a sustainable health care package.

One of Hanke's administrators responded to Hanke's expressed desire to reorder the county's health care benefit plan to make it more comparable to what average Stark Countians are getting:  "You can't turn the Queen Mary around in a day."

So true.

While Stark County's citizens were not watching, The Report believes that former county commissioners played "sugar daddy" to county employees and now "chickens are coming home to roost."

To be sure, the county is making a modest effort to recover from the unsustainable.  Next year county employees will be paying 10% of the cost of their medical and dental needs.  However, the 10% will still be a far cry from the average 22% (single and family coverage) that KFF says is the norm for those getting coverage through private employers or buying coverage on their own.

Between the OPERS and the health care situation, the SCPR believes that there is  total overpay (in the sense of what the county "ought" to be doing) of at least $3.1 million per year.

Apparently, the county has paid millions of dollars in unsustainable benefits to county employees covered by the "commissioners plan" (Department of Disability, the Stark County Health Department employees and sheriff deputies under the "Deputies Plan" are not); at least in recent years.

Such underscores why Stark Countians need to be careful as to whom they elect Stark County commissioner.  Voters need to know what a commissioner candidates know what fiscal responsibility is  and when they meet them while they are campaigning, ask them questions such as:  what is an appropriate level of  salary and benefits for county employees and please Mr./Ms. candidate address the question with the taxpayer in mind.

While the SCPR believes it was irresponsible for former commissioners to approve unsustainable employee benefits, it is also irresponsible for citizens not to ask scrutinizing questions.

This election year voters have a prime opportunity to determine who has the better answers on this question.

In selecting between Creighton and Meeks (the full term) and between Walters and Bernabei (the remaining two years of the Harmon term), who will be the most fiscally responsible should be right at the top of considerations as to whom a voter will vote for.

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