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County employees on board for health reimbursement plan

Enough St. Croix County union employees signed up for high-deductible health insurance to allow the county to fluff up its contingency fund by $132,000 and to help sidetrack a Transportation Committee demand for more money.

The county offered a health reimbursement account plan for employees who chose the high-deductible option. While the deductible is higher and thus the premium lower, in 2009 the county will set aside $1,400 per employee to cover deductibles. In 2010 that amount will be $1,300, and any reimbursement money not spent in 2009 will carry over to 2010.

The program is optional for union employees now. By the end of 2010, it will be mandatory for all employees whose unions have agreed to it. It is already mandatory for department heads, managers and other non-union employees.

Premiums for each union employee in the health reimbursement account plan will be $663, or $242 a month less than for those who opt to stay with the low-deductible plan. The county pays 90 percent of premiums, and the employee pays 10 percent.

Finance Director Michelle Pietrick said because the open enrollment period extended to the end of November, there was no way to know when the budget was adopted how many employees would choose the HRA alternative. The Finance Committee decided to budget conservatively.

The $132,199 over budgeted for other departments will go to the contingency fund.

But the board agreed not to adjust the Highway Department's budget. Since nearly all highway workers signed on for HRAs, the saving in that department is $141,000.

Highway Commissioner Tim Ramberg explained that because his department charges the state and other municipalities for its services, the cost of benefits such as health insurance are factored into its rates and changing that now wouldn't be feasible.

During budget work, the Highway Department was one of those who took the biggest hits when it was told to cut $400,000 from its funding request.

Last month as the board adopted its 2009 budget, Transportation Committee members said they'd come back in December to ask for an amendment to give the department more money.

Since then they changed their minds, said Transportation Committee Chairman Dick King, Vice Chairman Gerald Peterson and Ramberg.

"Before we were cut $400,000. We didn't get our $400,000 back, but we got $141,000," said King.

Ramberg said hot mix costs have dropped, it's hard to tell how high winter maintenance expenses will be, and the committee is waiting until after the 2008 audit to see where the department stands financially.

Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer said contingency fund money won't go untapped since the county still hasn't settled 2009 negotiations with one union group.