Insurance muddles Matthews budget

Commissioners get first peek at 2012-13 proposal

by Kara Lopp

If Matthews commissioners approve the town manager’s budget, residents won’t see any tax or fee increases next year, despite skyrocketing health insurance costs for town employees.

Town Manager Hazen Blodgett presented his proposed $21,954,727 budget to town commissioners Tuesday, May 29. The proposal includes raises for employees based on performance evaluations – an average increase of about 3 percent for employees. It would be the first raise for town employees since the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Commissioners will hold a budget workshop at 6 p.m. Monday, June 4, and a public hearing is planned for 7 p.m. Monday, June 11 where residents can have their say on the proposal. Residents can review the recommended budget online at Mint Hill already held its budget workshops and plans a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14.

In crafting this year’s proposed budget, Matthews staff had to contend with: a $70,150, or 27 percent, increase in fuel costs; a $32,720, or 7 percent, increase in utilities; a $55,000, or 60 percent, increase in radio fees during the switch from analog to digital; a $22,409 increase in workers compensation and property/liability insurance; and a potential $608,000, or 55 percent, increase in health insurance coverage costs for employees.

“We are still experiencing the effects of the recession with revenues projected to increase only moderately in the next budget year. The cost of doing business, such as increases in fuel, utilities and insurance, continues to escalate faster than the growth of our revenues,” Blodgett told commissioners.

Among all the expected cost increases, health insurance is the greatest burden on this year’s budget, Blodgett said.

“The one thing that prevents this from being a great budget, in my opinion, is the health insurance,” he said at the meeting. “It’s a hot topic and something we deal with every single year during the budget and it’s not going away.”

Health insurance costs increased about 20 percent last year for the town. There are 128 employees who use the town’s insurance plan. Town staff presented several options for reducing the town’s cost for health insurance during the May 29 meeting, including giving employees a stipend to buy their own health insurance. Commissioners will discuss the matter further during their June 4 meeting.

“What happens to the very sickest or unhealthiest of our employees? Is it impossible for them to get insurance? Blodgett said. “Whatever we do, at least we’re exploring all the options.”

Here’s a look at some proposed department highlights:

$4,000 for board members to host an out-of-town planning conference
$3,500 for the biannual citizens survey
$17,000 for the town’s federal lobbyist (six months)
$15,000 for human resources Service Excellence Initiative
$12,750 for Google email fees

$230,625 to replace seven patrol vehicles. After several years of fewer vehicles replaced due to the recession, Police Chief Rob Hunter said there are about a dozen vehicles officers use now that would have been replaced already, according to the department’s replacement policy. The department replaced eight vehicles last year.
Not funded: $9,000 to change a records clerk position from part to full time

Fire and EMS
$160,000 for volunteer incentives (same as last year)
$190,000 to the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department
$28,000 for 10 sets of firefighter turnout gear
Not funded: $38,928 for a full-time administrative assistant

Public Works
$15,000 to cover increased Duke Energy fees for street lighting (includes the addition of streets in Greylock)
$310,000 for road paving ($20,000 less than last year due to lower vehicle fee revenue)
$6,900 for the promotion/reorganizing of staff
$6,000 to replace Christmas street decorations
Not funded: $41,000 for a maintenance position

No money for small area plans or GIS software
Not funded: $18,300 to increase code enforcement from a part- to full-time position. Planning Director Kathi Ingrish told commissioners without a full-time employee the department is forced to be reactive rather than proactive, and even then has trouble responding to all complaints in a timely manner. “There are a lot more violations out there than we can address,” she said. “Right now (the employee) is trying to do five days of work in three days and it’s not working well.” Blodgett acknowledged the problem. “I took a complaint last week and (the employee) wasn’t here. The resident (is) left wondering ‘Where’s my help?’” he said.

Economic Development
Funded at $50,000, which includes $7,500 for downtown facade grants
Not funded: $75,000 in additional funding, including an employee position

Parks and Recreation
$20,000 to replace mechanical rigging and new curtains in the Matthews Community Center theater

$70,000 for nonprofit tourism grants (applications to be accepted this summer; $5,000 donation to Levine Senior Center recommended)
$5,700 for painting and fire alarm system installation at the Depot
$238,000 already approved for Matthews Heritage Museum
$40,500 to buy chairs, desks, tables and other supplies for the under-construction McDowell Arts Center

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *