CRYSTAL FALLS— After lengthy discussion and much discernment by Iron County employees and the Board of Commissioners, a decision on employee health care was made at the regular monthly meeting on June 10.
The board decided to opt out of Public Act 152 (a publicly funded health insurance contribution act) as it did a year ago, paving the way for additional changes.
Before offering a lengthy motion on the issue, Chairman James Brennan stated, “This was a difficult decision to make last year, and it didn’t get any easier this year.”
Pared down, Brennan’s motion included a resolution to opt out of PA 152 by July 1; to switch insurance providers from Blue Cross to Consumer Mutual Insurance; and to require all elected and appointed county employees to pay 5 percent of any flexible spending account plan, healthcare savings account plan and medical benefit plan costs incurred by the county, beginning on July 1.
After discussion, the motion passed 5-0.
With rising healthcare costs and dropping county revenue, county employees and the board itself realized that cost-cutting measures are needed with the county’s healthcare coverage.
Speaking as an elected employee, Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Powell addressed the board during public comment.
“As elected leaders of this county, you’re charged with very difficult tasks,” Powell began. “You provide administration and budgetary oversight for a myriad of services. These are important responsibilities.
“But sometimes we look at our resources as a means to an end. Sometimes what happens when we’re trying to get to the bottom line is we lose sight of the fact that the decisions we’re making affect actual people.
“It may be good for the bottom line, but with practical application, they can wreck havoc in people’s lives.”
The board basically had three options: to stay with PA 152 and let the insurance plan default to a hard cap (any healthcare costs above the cap would be paid by the employee); to go with an 80/20 split, requiring employees to contribute 20 percent; or go with a different percentage.
The decision was made to go with the third option, with the understanding that eventually, the county will have to go to an 80/20 split.
“We’ll need to get inside that, but we didn’t want to hit everybody with a huge bill all at once,” Brennan said.
Commissioner Patti Peretto said that while she is sympathetic to the county’s employees, current financial circumstances dictate that employee contributions to their healthcare coverage are going to have to increase as county revenues plummet.
“We don’t have the tax base, and the business and manufacturing isn’t there,” she said.
In other board news, Iron County Emergency Management and U.P. 211 have agreed to work together to provide county citizens with simplified access to information and assistance during community emergencies.
Also, the agencies will provide county citizens with improved centralized rumor control, increased number of 211 lines through coordination with Emergency Management and improved effectiveness of information management and distribution via use of trained call center staff.
This comes at no cost to the county, and the board agreed to allow county Emergency Coordinator Vernon Jones to sign the memorandum between the two agencies.
Additionally, the board approved a contract with Many Waters LLC to continue its diver-assisted suction harvesting (DASH) of Eurasian milfoil at Chicaugon Lake. The treatment began last year as part of the effort to deal with the invasive species, which has harmful effects to a lake. Once established, the plant is extremely difficult to remove completely.
“It’s my opinion that if you have milfoil in your lake, it’s going to be a constant problem to manage it,” Brennan said. “It’s like dandelions. If we stay on top of Eurasian milfoil in the (Pentoga) park waterfront, I think we can keep it under control
“It looks like it was very effective for us. It will take a year or two to really know.”
The DASH treatment cannot begin until July 15 because of nesting loons.
Also, Peretto previously expressed concern with the presence of another species, called Northern milfoil, around the dock at the Pentoga Park that could entangle swimmers. County Administrator Sue Clisch said that she was informed by Many Waters that DASH wasn’t necessary in this effort and that the company could send someone down to just cut the plants off.
Commissioner Ray Coates reported that the new dock was to be installed on June 12 and also that a group of lake residents purchased a new swimming raft for the lake.
“There’s lots of work going on, and the park is really starting to look good,” Coates said.
Finally, the board appointed Anthony Tomasoski to the Construction Code & Appeals Board.