Ocean City Today

County considers cutting employee, teacher benefits

By Brian Gilliland | Jun 22, 2017

(June 23, 2017) While most of the Worcester County Commissioners don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of reducing benefits provided to dependents of future county employees, they agreed to take no action Tuesday until they hear what current employees, particularly teachers, think about scaling back some programs.

The change would affect new hires to the county only, and specifically only those hired after a date yet to be determined, though Tuesday’s discussion centered on changing benefits at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

County employees, which includes teachers, hired before July 1, 2015 enjoy post-retirement health plans for dependents at a 10 percent cost, and those hired after that date pay 20 percent of the cost.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he wanted to shift the entire cost of the county’s health care plan for dependents to the retired employee.

Mitrecic said a large and growing number of private employers, some local, don’t offer health benefits to retired employees — let alone spouses or children.

“In today’s economy, the employees are asking what you can do for me today. Look at our hiring and see how they come and go. They leave us for $2 and aren’t worried about tomorrow, they’re worried about today,” he said.

Commissioner Bud Church agreed with Mitrecic in principle, but thought more discussion was needed.

“I think it’s too arbitrary to do this without a dialogue, and without the people involved. I think it’s the wrong thing to do at this time,” he said.

Five commissioners agreed with Church, and voted to table the issue.

One of the people against the idea of delaying the vote is Commissioner President Jim Bunting, who sets the agenda for the meetings. Joining Bunting’s dissent was Mitrecic.

“We can continue to put this off or kick the can down the road, but if we did this two years ago, we’d be two years farther with the savings. We can certainly have board of education input,” Mitrecic said. “They can write a letter or have input, but I know what they’re going to say.”

Commissioner Diana Purnell emphasized the importance of getting the school board’s opinion.

“Health insurance is important because salaries have stagnated in the region,” Beth Shockley-Lynch, head of the county teachers’ association, said. “We saved a lot of teachers during the recession due to the benefits. The people who leave us aren’t our concern — it’s the long-term people we’re thinking of here.”

How much is going to be saved by the proposed changes is anyone’s guess. However, County Treasurer Phil Thompson is certain of one thing, the savings won’t be seen for a while.

“Significant savings are 15-20 years out,” he said, and that’s only if economic conditions remain relatively stable during that time.

While others on the board appeared to endorse revisiting the issue in September, when teachers are more readily available, Bunting remained inscrutable, and said the discussion would resume in a short while.

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