Taxes, money behind road, insurance budget decisions
(Doreen Creed) - “Taxes and money" in one form or the other is always an underlying topic at Meade County Commissioners' meetings. This week was no different. Final major budget decisions will be made on Sept. 27. Remember, there are five independently minded individuals on the commission. Each has an opinion as to how taxpayers' money should be spent.
Millions of dollar in requests have already been slashed; not because any were frivolous, there is a lack of funding. The future of this dilemma does not appear to be any brighter.
The chief county expenses are roads, crime-related expenses, employee compensation and insurance.
Meade County has nearly 1,000 miles of roads on its highway system. No other county in South Dakota has anywhere near this number of miles. Aging bridges compound the problem.
Two heavily traveled roads, Elk Vale and Elk Creek, need multi-millions of dollars in improvement. Exactly, what and when resulted in a split vote. Four commissioners decided to take the recommendation of its highway superintendent, Lincoln Shuck. The two roads will not be in one combined state project. Instead, only Elk Vale will be built. It will be a county, not state project and will be divided into two years. It is expected that a bid can be let in the next couple of months for the dirt work to widen and straighten the road. It will be hard surfaced the following year.
Shuck believes having the county in charge of the project could cut the estimated $3.4 million project by as much as $500,000. The majority of the project will be from the county's multi-year STIP build-up. The county will drain its entire STIP funds of $2,912,700 for this project. The Elk Vale Road is north from the Pennington County line near Rapid City to where it intersects with Elk Creek.
The Elk Creek project will now join other roads awaiting costly hard surface improvements such as New Underwood Road, Avalanche Road, Erickson Ranch Road , etc.
The board has also said it wants the highway department to concentrate on graveling existing roads.
The ever increasing cost of health insurance is not topic reserved for Congress.
The turmoil in the insurance industry has greatly impacted Meade County. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, health insurance premium increases had been fairly close to inflation. No more. Prior commissioners attempted to ease the impact by going self-funded but historic claims have increased costs.
The commissioner heard a lengthy presentation concerning the approximate $1 million increase in its health insurance premium. (The slide preview can be found at http://www.boarddocs.com/sd/meade/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AQYMJ85B646F.)
A thirty percent increase had been included in the provisional budget. The estimate was pretty close. Wellmark’s renewal last week came back with a recommended 27.5 percent increase. The increase only covers expected claims which have surpassed every year since 2015.
County personnel are exploring the possibility of joining a larger plan group, the SD Municipal League. But that group would need to agree. The county is also exploring offering more than a single or family plan option.
Meade County must have health insurance for its employees because it employs more than 50 people. As an "Applicable Large Employer” it must provide "affordable coverage" which according to the IRS, coverage in 2017 could not exceed 9.69 percent of an employee's household income.
In 2017, the lowest county wage is $13.81/hour, which amounts to $28,724.80 annual wage. Although the taxable wage for an employee could end up differently, the county used the full value for calculations. An employee's healthcare premiums (employee only) are not allowed to exceed $2,783.43 annually, or $231.95/month. Currently, employees pay $70 for a single policy and $437 for their portion of a family policy.
The commissioners will decide its insurance options at its Sept. 27 meeting. All final budget decisions will be made for both the general fund, highway fund and non-mandated funding at this session. Public input is sought on budget and any other concerns.
The commissioners and department heads will be attending the SD Public Officials Convention Monday and Tuesday in Rapid City.