Chesterton Tribune

County council rejects call to end health benefits for elected officials

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By VICKI URBANIK

Porter County Council members have decided that elected county officials will not get raises next year, but an effort by one member to deny them health insurance unless they work full-time failed Tuesday.

Near the end of Tuesday’s budget hearings, County Council member Matt Murphy, R-3rd, proposed eliminating the health benefit for all elected officials, unless they can prove that they work the county government’s customary 35-hour work week.

After an extended discussion, Murphy ended up being the only one to vote in support of his motion.

Several other council members said they don’t necessarily disagree with Murphy’s intent, but raised concerns about how the policy would be enforced.

The motion would have applied to the county council members, commissioners, and all other elected officials, such as the county treasurer, auditor, assessor, and clerk. County Council member Robert Poparad, D-1st, noted that several of the offices are required under the state’s constitution. However, the county council has no control over the office holders after they’re elected -- if they show up for work only for a few days a year, he said, “there’s nothing we can do.”

Although the general consensus seemed to be that only about 15 people would be affected by the change and that it would have a negligible impact on the county’s costs for health coverage, Murphy said he has a problem giving health benefits to people who only work part-time. “Is it too much to ask for our elected officials to do time cards?” he said.

But Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said the move could lead to other problems. He said the county council members are considered on call for county business at all times, and that the county commissioners get county-related calls into the wee hours of the night. He questioned how those officials could be expected to punch a time clock when they work erratic hours for the county.

Council member Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, said it’s likely that some elected officials put in more than a 35-hour work week.

Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper urged forming a committee to study the issues raised.

Murphy’s motion to deny health coverage to all elected officials who work less than 35 hours a week failed on a 4-1 vote, with Murphy voting yes, and Whitten, Poparad, Stevenson and Mike Bucko, D-at large, voting no, and council member Jim Burge, R-at large, abstaining. In their votes, Whitten, Bucko and Burge all endorsed the committee formation instead.

In a separate budget review Tuesday, Murphy noted that even though the public defenders are considered part-time, they, too, are eligible for county health coverage.

In another vote Tuesday, the council agreed to grant most full-time county employees a $750 raise, except for elected officials, who, under a proposal by Poparad, will get no increase.

 

Posted 9/12/2007