County commissioners hear budget needs

Money was in the air Tuesday as the Cavalier County Commissioners convened for their first regularly scheduled meeting of September.

County Commissioners

Posted on 9/7/13

By Lee Coleman

With departmental budget proposals lined up to be presented to the Board, chairperson Elsie Magnus began the open discussion segment of the agenda on the subject of county employee healthcare benefits.

Currently, the county pays 100 percent of healthcare premiums for employees as does the city.

In the last city commission meeting of August, cursory dialogue opened up the possibility of further discussion on the reduction of and/or the shared costs of healthcare premiums for employees.

Magnus echoed those sentiments.

“We need to get together with the salary committee and talk about insurance and discuss health insurance options,” she said. “I’m looking at it for the future as far as 2020.”

With healthcare costs continuing to rise and great uncertainty encompassing President Barack Obama’s healthcare program, premium costs could continue to soar as county revenues fluctuate with the county tax base.

“We are going to tax ourselves right out of business if we’re not careful.” said commissioner Rich Flanders.

Presenting budget proposals was the library, social services, county extension, clerk of court, emergency management-E911 and the sheriff’s department.

In lump sum, budget requests in the amount of $1,364,128 were made: library- $106,500, social services- $826,151, county extension- $116,117, clerk of court-$93,078, emergency management- $56,409 and the sheriff department- $125,140.

Social Services had the biggest increase request, surpassing 2013 by $110,159 in part due to $61,805 in salary increases and $26,549 in group insurance increases.

However, Director Jill Denault sought to quantify the department’s salary structure with a request for social services to be considered a separate entity for salary purposes based on state mandates which require social services to operate under the merit system.

Every two years, the state legislature sets the minimum and maximum salaries allowed under the system although the fiduciary responsibilities remain with the county.

“The courthouse and social services do things differently,” Denault said on Wednesday. “We hire so differently and we are governed by the merit system.”

In other budget news, Lawrence Blue of Cavalier County Memorial Hospital came before the Board seeking additional funding for the hospital’s ambulance and paramedic program.

Blue requested one additional millage of tax money be allotted for the program in 2014.

Under current county ambulance service guidelines for funding, a three millage levy of tax money is distributed to Langdon, Munich and Walhalla based on call volume and territory.

In 2013, CCMH received nearly 66 percent of that funding with Munich receiving about 38 percent and Walhalla getting one percent.

“We are one of only five or six hospitals left in the state that provides its own ambulance service,” Blue explained. “We want to have three fully certified paramedics on duty around the clock to solidify our advanced life support system.”

Flanders suggested an increase in the usage fees but Blue pointed out the stoic structure of fees that can’t be changed because of medical insurance standards.

“The health care industry has become very challenging.” he said.

In 2006, voters passed a resolution capping the millage rate for ambulance service at three.

In order for CCMH to receive the extra millage as requested, the question must be presented to voters in the next election in June, 2014.

Blue said he would return to the commissioners early next year to make a formal request.

“The advantage to us would be the service,” said commissioner Tom Borgen. “It wouldn’t generate that much more revenue.”

The county commissioners will hold a budget meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m.