TRAVERSE CITY — A county commissioner wants board members to have access to expanded health insurance benefits equal to what full-time county employees receive.
Commissioner Brad Jewett brought the item forward for the Jan. 20 regular meeting, but pulled it off the agenda because he did not have all the information he needed.
The expanded benefit proposed would cover a commissioner’s family, a perk equal to what’s offered to full-time county employees, said Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger.
Commissioners currently can opt for a single policy that covers just them. A family policy costs the county about $15,000 per year, while a single policy costs about $7,000. Employees and commissioners are required to pay 20 percent of the premium.
Board Chairman Rob Hentschel, Co-chair Ron Clous and Jewett are on the county’s healthcare insurance policy.
The quest for an increase in benefits comes on the tail of 72 percent raises commissioners gave themselves in December, with commissioners Betsy Coffia and Bryce Hundley voting against the increase. Commissioners this year will be paid $12,000, with the co-chair receiving $12,500 and the chair $13,000.
Alger was also granted a raise of 5 percent per year for three years, in addition to the 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise all employees received for this year. In July, after his contracted raise kicks in, Alger will be paid $145,242.
County Clerk Bonnie Scheele was also given an $11,000 raise over two years, and pay scales for the human resources and information technology director positions have been adjusted to top out at $125,000, from a previous amount of $105,055.
Nate Lentz is president of the Grand Traverse County Deputy Sheriffs Association, the local arm of the Police Officers Association of Michigan.
The group, which has 54 members, has been in negotiations for a new contract, which expired Jan. 1.
The deputies were offered the 1.5 percent cost-of-living increases given to other employees, but raises given to Alger and other administrators were a catalyst for extended negotiations, said Lentz, who is on the negotiating team.
“It’s frustrating that that’s the only thing they’re electing to give to all 500 employees the county has,” Lentz said.
Deputies are on a four-year step plan, he said.
“So after four years we’re topped out,” Lentz said. “There’s no more raises.”
Lentz said the county used Allegan County as a comparison for what other administrators are paid.
In Allegan County deputies are paid 11 percent more than what Grand Traverse County deputies are paid.
Lentz said it’s not that Alger doesn’t deserve a raise.
“We all just feel that it’s unfair to treat us different as deputies,” Lentz said. “If you’re going to use a comparison, it should be used across the board.”
Commissioners also receive a $35 per meeting per diem, with the county budget showing $18,550 was paid out in per diems in 2020. The amount was well below the $35,000 that was budgeted, with Alger saying there were fewer meetings because of the pandemic.
Jewett did not respond to a request for comment regarding his recommendation.
Hentschel said the proposal was worth taking a look at.
“It’s a reinstatement of a previous benefit that was enjoyed by past commissioners,” Hentschel said.
If the recommendation is approved by the board, it could not go into effect until 2022, as policies are already in place for this year, said Dean Bott, county finance manager.
County commissioners had family healthcare benefits in the past, but they were eliminated in 2008 at the beginning of the recession, Bott said. Those who do not take the policy are given an extra $2,000 per year, with the budget showing that $10,000 was paid out in 2020.
There were also two years — 2017 and 2018 — when commissioners opted to collect a salary of $1 per year. The move was made to address budget issues, Bott said, especially the unfunded pension liability the county is working to decrease.
In 2019 commissioners were paid an annual salary of $7,000, with the co-chair paid $7,500 and the chair $8,000.