Twenty-one Dougherty County Public Works employees expressed concerns over announced plans to raise employee insurance contributions starting in 2013, prompting the Dougherty County Commission to table a vote on the issue until the employees had an opportunity to discuss their concerns. (Sept. 17, 2012)
ALBANY, Ga. — The Dougherty County Commission tabled a planned vote on employee insurance contributions after 21 Public Works employees addressed their concerns over planned increases at the commission's business meeting Monday morning.
Reacting to reports on the proposed increases, the Public Works employees told commissioners they would have trouble paying additional premiums.
"Since I came to work for the county in 2010, we've had an increase in insurance premiums and have had to take five furlough days," Jason Hillhouse told the board. "If premiums go up another 3 percent, that will be a 7 percent decrease in pay since I've been here."
When two members of the group came forward to discuss personal hardships, County Administrator Richard Crowdis cut them off, telling the commission they would be going against protocol if they allowed the employees to speak.
"If you set that precedent, it's set from this point forward," he said.
When Commissioner John Hayes objected, saying the workers — who had taken personal time to come to the meeting — should have a right to speak, Commissioner Jack Stone disagreed.
"If we don't follow the chain of command," Stone said, "we might as well fire Richard Crowdis and find someone else to do the job."
Crowdis pointed out that he'd already revised the previously announced recommendation on employee contributions, dropping the amount paid bi-weekly by employees to $1.42 for the base medical plan, to $2.76 for employee-plus-one and to $3.96 for families who are part of the plan.
At a work session last Wednesday, those proposed bi-weekly pre-tax increases were given as $16.85, $33.63 and $43.65, respectively.
Sinyard wanted to have staff meet with the Public Works employees and bring the matter back up at the commission's meeting next week, but he was told plans had already been made to have insurance vendors meet with county officials on Monday. That did not sit well with Commissioner Gloria Gaines.
"This should be a lesson learned for staff," the District 5 commissioner said. "Nothing is final until this board takes action, and you just don't make a schedule this tight not knowing what our action will be. Painting us into a corner is not something you need to do."
Gaines told the employees that their presence at the meeting had not been in vain.
"The mere presence of these employees speaks volumes," she said. "If the process does not allow you to speak today, we heard you, loud and clear."
Commissioner Lamar Hudgins pointed out financial realities that he said were crucial to the need to have employees meet part of the cost of the insurance increase.
"What we must take into consideration is that our insurance plan still owes the county's general fund $890,000," he said. "We're trying to keep this solvent so you still have an insurance plan."
Crowdis said extremely high employee claims in 2010 forced the county to borrow $1,495,336 from the general fund to offset the costs. The plan has since paid back some $600,000 of that cost.
Also at Monday's meeting, Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission President/CEO Ted Clem gave an overview of the EDC's five-year strategic plan. During the presentation, Clem noted that six companies had brought 478 new jobs into the county during Fiscal Year 2012 and made $9.8 million in capital investments.
Clem noted, "We're off to a good start in 2013, too, with the new Fed-Ex ground facility bringing 15 jobs and, more importantly, almost $3.7 million in capital investment."
Clem told the board his staff would utilize the "three R's of Economic Development: recruitment, retention and renewal" in an effort to attract new business and expand existing businesses in the community.
"The overall message of our planning sessions (for the strategic plan) is how do we get back to the nitty gritty, to the basics?" Clem said. "We plan to do that by organizing task forces in each area of our plan, to show prospective businesses that the entire community is interested in them coming here.
"There are some talented people in Albany, and we want to get them involved in what we're doing."
Commissioners also approved a joint resolution with the city of Albany urging members of Congress to act immediately to avoid sequestration, which would mean significant military cuts at facilities such as Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.
"This by itself is not going to make a significant impact (in Washington)," Sinyard said while holding up a copy of the resolution. "But we want our base to know that we support them and we oppose sequestration."