By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 11, 2018 | 12:15 p.m.
Editor’s Note: Supervisors had the item added to their agenda for their July 10 meeting. Any decisions on the matter from the July 10 meeting will be reported in the upcoming edition of The Prince George Journal on July 18.
PRINCE GEORGE – An attempt to reinstate eligibility of Prince George supervisors to be able to receive health insurance through the county failed to move forward after a former board member expressed concern about how the matter was being handled by the currently seated board.
During their meeting in June, supervisors were slated to consider rescinding an action by the Prince George Board of Supervisors in April of 2015 that saw the board at that time vote to remove members of the county board from those who would be eligible to receive health, dental, and vision insurance through the county’s plan.
According to the minutes from the board’s meeting on April 28, 2015, during a discussion about employee health insurance plans, then-Chairman Bill Robertson was noted as “[agreeing] with eliminating Board members from the healthcare plan,” and those minutes showed “the Board agreed with the Chairman.” On a unanimous vote, supervisors voted to “approve a health plan to eliminate the Board of Supervisors,” among other items in the motion.
Three years later, prior to their vote last month, now-former Supervisor Robertson spoke during the June meeting of the board of supervisors and raised his concerns about this action was placed on the board’s consent agenda and not on their regular order of business and, if the measure is approved and a board member does sign on for health insurance, that would be a pay increase to supervisors
“Issues aren’t discussed when they are on the consent agenda, you just vote,” Robertson said during the meeting. “Putting it on the consent agenda appears to hide that you are giving yourself a pay increase.”
In an interview, Robertson explained that the board’s rationale at the time of the 2015 decision was to prevent “people from coming on the board to get health insurance,” calling it, “a hidden way of increasing [board member] compensation.”
“Board members at that time felt that this was something you were doing as a public service,” he remarked. “We did away with it because it is making the rest of the employee’s health insurance premiums go up.”
Regarding last month’s agenda item on the matter, according to the county’s adopted bylaws for 2018, “the consent agenda shall be considered by the Board as a single item requiring one motion and one vote.” The language adds, “There shall be no debate regarding individual items on the consent agenda,” board members can remove an item from the consent agenda for comment by the board prior to a vote and any item that is removed “shall be voted on separately after voting on the consent agenda.”
On the board’s consent agenda for their June 12, 2018 meeting along with the matter of reinstating eligibility of supervisors to be able to receive health, dental, and vision insurance was the draft minutes from their May meetings, a budget amendment and appropriation of $119,000 in fire program funds, the donation of a police vehicle to Crater Training Academy, and the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Prince George County Police Department and Crater Youth Care Commission.
“If this is open and transparent, pull this item and place it on the regular agenda so the board can see who is voting for this increase to themselves,” Robertson continued. “As a taxpayer, I am against this.”
According to an issue analysis form on the subject, if the action is rescinded, supervisors would be eligible for health insurance at the rate of full-time county employees, should they choose to apply to said insurance. Based on the health insurance rates adopted by the county for the upcoming year, a full-time employee pays $40 per month for Anthem Plan 30 coverage while the county pays $680 month, or $8,160 annually.
Those benefits would be in addition to the current salary of serving board members, which is $6,900 per year for supervisors and $7,500 annually for chairman of the board, currently Alan Carmichael.
The issue analysis report states there could be a “potential increase in employer-paid health insurance premiums if board members enroll,” along with health insurance claims impact. When asked, county officials noted that none of the board’s five members have expressed interest in signing up for county health insurance.
That report goes on to detail a survey conducted by Tedd Povar of the Virginia Institute of Government on behalf of the county, which showed just over half of municipalities grant health insurance eligibility to board members. According to the report, in nine of the 15 communities surveyed, board members are eligible for benefits and seven of those nine responded further by confirming that the premiums paid by those supervisors are the same as full-time employees.
Those fifteen communities had populations ranging from 4,600 in the town of South Hill to 41,000 in Danville. Of those who do grant health insurance eligibility to supervisors, the population ranges from 9,900 in Warrenton to 40,000 in Wise County.
While rescinding the motion from 2015 would reinstate county health, vision, and dental eligibility to supervisors, when it comes to vision and dental coverage, county documents confirm those are “voluntary products paid entirely by the employee.”
Following Robertson’s comments, Supervisor TJ Webb requested that the item be removed from the consent agenda, with the remaining items being approved as normal.
When discussing the matter, Webb said during the county’s interaction with Evergreen Solutions as they worked on developing the county’s pay study, supervisors were brought information about what supervisors made in communities of similar size and, “at that time, a straw poll was taken,” and it was agreed upon by supervisors to not pursue a pay raise “because of what the citizens had endured and with other costs on the horizon, like the new school,” referring to the $30 million elementary school that is currently in the planning stages.
Of Prince George’s neighbors, supervisors in Dinwiddie, which has roughly 10,000 fewer people living there, are paid $10,200 annually, with the chairman receiving $10,900 per year and the vice-chair being provided $10,550 annually.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, it was revealed that supervisors in Sussex, which is smaller in terms of population than both Dinwiddie and Prince George, make $7,344 annually, while the vice-chair receives $7,956 per year and the board chairman gets $8,568 annually. The board in that county received a two-percent pay increase during the 2017 fiscal year.
Supervisors in nearby Surry County make $5,000 each, with the chairman and vice-chair both receiving the same amount as their fellow supervisors.
“This item should be taken off the agenda because it looks like we are giving ourselves a pay increase,” Webb remarked before Vice-Chair Donald Hunter and Supervisor Marlene Waymack brought forth a motion to defer the matter until their next meeting on July 10, which passed unanimously.
When asked, Robertson said he has no problem if the board “wants to grant themselves health insurance,” but he wanted to see the matter discussed in an open forum as opposed to being part of the consent agenda.
“The county has always put itself forward as being transparent but this is being transparent,” he said. “Put it out there, let it be discussed and then vote on it so the citizens know who was in favor of it and who wasn’t in favor of it.”