The planned Bartholomew County annex building on State Street has been killed and the county will have to find a million dollars in savings in its health care costs, under budget cutting measures being laid out by the Bartholomew County Council.
The County Council and County Commissioners have been wrestling with the details of a 2016 budget that was originally about $4 million more than revenues. If the cuts and changes laid out at last night’s budget session are made, that gap would narrow to about $700,000 council members said.
One point of disagreement between the two county bodies has been the annex building on State Street. Both sides have agreed that there isn’t the money to fund the project, but both sides also wanted the other to actually make the vote to kill the construction. Last night the council made the first move, voting to pull back $2 million in funding they had already approved, effectively terminating the project.
Councilman Jim Reed said that the council needed to take that action and kill the project. The council voted unanimously to withdraw the funding.
Council members have called health care costs the 800-pound gorilla in the negotiations. Commissioners have said the county needs $5.7 million dollars next year in the health care trust fund to cover employee health care costs — the same as this year’s costs. But council member have urged the commissioners to find more cost savings.
Last night, the council members agreed to only fund $4.7 million in health care for employees and to urge the commissioners to find $1 million in savings.
Councilman Bill Lentz explained the council’s view:
Of particular interest to several council members was a proposal by Apex Benefits of Indianapolis. In a hearing last week, representatives from Apex said they could save the county more than a million dollars. But that would come from forcing health providers to accept reimbursements pegged to Medicare costs plus a percentage. And if the health care provider came after a covered employee for the remainder of the balance, the claim would be forwarded to the company’s’ attorneys.
County Commissioners said they were concerned about the effect such a plan would have on the county-owned Columbus Regional Hospital and didn’t like the way the company proposed strong-arming health-care providers. They also said they were concerned with the effects on employees who would receive the dunning notices.
Commissioner Rick Flohr said the commissioners weren’t interested in doing business under a model meant to short-change health care providers. Commissioners said they are looking at changes to the benefits offered, to the premiums and deductibles paid by employees and will be seeking bids for the administration of the health care plan.
But council members charged the commissioners still weren’t doing enough to cut healthcare costs.
The council also agreed to set aside $1.2 million saved from the now-rejected county annex project as a reserve for the county health care trust, which has dipped to dangerously low levels in recent years.
Council member Laura DeDomenic came to the council meeting armed with a list of more than $3 million dollars in possible savings she found after scouring the county budget requests for next year and comparing it to actual spending in previous years. Plus she had suggestions based on her own business experience.
Although many of the suggestions were ruled out by various spending requirements outside of the county’s control or by budget realities, the council and county auditor Barb Hackman did agree to about $370,000 of her cost-cutting proposals including an energy audit of county buildings and eliminating two open job positions in the county information technology and maintenance departments.
Councilman Mark Gorbett said he was concerned that the council was focused on short-term fixes for next year’s budget without looking at longer term changes including raising revenues, such as through an income tax aimed to cover public safety expenses.