The Mobile County Commission voted Monday to use a portion of nearly $2 million in carryover funds to help employees pay for health care costs.
A change in employees’ health coverage will result in two premium payments and an extra deductible payment for workers. In order to combat the extra expenses, the county will pay for the additional premium in April and give a $500 bonus to cover the deductible. The insurance switchover is set to save the county more than $2 million a year.
The move will pay out nearly $800,000 to 1,600 county employees and would also chip in around $400,000 from county coffers to cover the premiums. Another $350,000 of the carryover would be provided to Sheriff Sam Cochran’s office to pay for increased expenses at the jail.
The bonuses will be paid to employees on Friday, March 14. The bonuses will be paid to all full-time merit system and full-time monthly county employees on payroll as of Saturday, March 1.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich believes she is entitled to some of the carryover in order to hire additional prosecutors.
“For three years we have tried to get much needed help from the county commission to adequately fund the prosecution of criminals in Mobile County,” Rich said in a prepared statement. “As of today, we have five unfilled prosecutor positions. Our efforts to obtain help from the county commission to help hire prosecutors we need have fallen on deaf ears.”
Commissioner Jerry Carl said he views the money in question as more of an investment into the money-saving health insurance changeover. He added that the commission is working to find more money for Rich’s office.
“I respect Ashley,” he said. “What she does over there is a thankless job. There’s no way we can give her enough money for her to do a flawless job, but we’re over here scratching our heads on how to help her.”
The question of how much county funding Rich’s office should get is the subject of a two-year-old lawsuit that is set to go to the Alabama Supreme Court later this year, said County Attorney Jay Ross. Both sides appealed a previous decision by Monroe County Judge George Elbrecht.
The surplus came about, in part, from increased sales tax revenue. Finance Director Michelle Herman told the commission on Wednesday morning that sales tax receipts for fiscal year 2013 were $52,343,530.76. This was 3.56 percent more than 2012 and 4.69 percent more than what was budgeted in 2013.
“We’re happy to have the money, but not all from growth,” Herman said. “It’s due, at least in some respect, to the collection of delinquent taxes.”
The county also saw an unexpected increase in property taxes related to vehicles, Herman said. Receipts on vehicle taxes increased 11 percent over what was budgeted to $3,331,445. That number is 4 percent more than 2012 receipts.
“People are buying cars,” Herman said.
While both those areas saw increases, real property tax receipts took a tip in 2013, for the first time since the economic downturn in 2008, Herman said. Receipts for 2013 were 6 percent below what was budgeted and less than one percent of 2012 property tax receipts.
In other business, the commission:
- Approved a request to add two 2014 Chevrolet Tahoes to the Sheriff’s Department’s fleet and dispose of a 2003 Ford Taurus and 1999 Dodge Durango
- Authorized appointing Bill Smith to the Mobile Community Action Board as a commission representative
- Approved a contract with the Board of School Commissioners for $5,802 for track equipment at Davidson High School
- Assigned Cowles, Murphy, Glover and Associates to perform professional engineering services, including design, bidding and dredging administration for Coden Bayou Dredging
- Assigned Applied Research Associates Inc. to perform professional engineering services, including technical review and comment related to analysis of reports and data associated with the Mobile County Coastal Flood Study. Total coast not to exceed $40,000.