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Commission to vote on employee style health insurance amid Elio - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Commission to vote on employee style health insurance amid Elio hype

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The eighth floor of Government Plaza is jokingly called the penthouse.

Stepping off the elevator, you'll first notice glossy, hardwood floors. The fresh green walls and modern office furniture are nothing fancy, but stand in contrast to other floors that seem untouched since the building was constructed.

This is where you'll find the offices of the Caddo Parish Administration. Their surroundings are a direct result of the parish's financial success. It possesses Louisiana's first and only AAA credit rating from Standards and Poor's. The Haynesville Shale natural gas play was good to Caddo. There's around $40 million in reserve funds and $17 million in an oil and gas fund.

Most on the Caddo Commission Board believe this wealth and prestige is the direct result of their hard work. Now, some, like Commissioner Ken Epperson and Michael Williams, want more from taxpayers for their efforts and a better safety net. 

While the proposal hasn't left committee yet, commissioners are considering a multi-thousand dollar increase in their salaries that are based around $20, 000 annually.

And many commissioners would like to hang around longer than the law currently allows. Caddo voters will decide in October whether commissioners' term limits should increase from three four-year terms to five four-year terms. If passed, this means a commissioner, now limited to a total of 12 years, could serve 20 years straight years if reelected consecutively. 

However, along with more money and time in their chair, some commissioners also want better, employee style benefits. This will happen if Ordinance 5333 -- overshadowed by the proposed $7.5 million purchase of the old GM plant -- gets passed during Thursday's regular session meeting. It authorizes commissioners and their dependents to participate in the parish's group insurance. Some commissioners want to be included in Caddo Parish's health care plan as employees. Right now, they're considered elected officials. But Erica Bryant, the parish's director of finance and human resources, says commissioners' public servant status doesn't exempt them from such a benefit.

"They earn compensation. So, they are, in most sense of the word, employees," Bryant said. "They receive a retirement benefit. They have to pay social security. They have to pay taxes."

Of course, not all commissioners believe the parish should become responsible for their health insurance. Those like Commissioner Michael Thibodeaux say their jobs as public servants mean they are temporary positions and basically part-time. He pointed out part-time parish employees aren't given insurance options.

Caddo Parish's health insurance plan is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield network. Bryant says it's self insured up to the first $125,000 in medical costs. Currently, commissioners can buy into the insurance plan and pay 100 percent of the yearly costs for their individual plan, which adds up to about $8,000 a year without dependents. 

"That means the parish isn't contributing anything towards the health cost, the premium, costs for the commissioners," Bryant said.

Under the proposed law, commissioners would be required to pay only 25 percent of the insurance premium. Parish taxpayers would contribute up to 75 percent, just as it does with full-time employees. If all 12 commissioners buy into the plan, which Bryant believes won't happen, that would be $72,000 the parish forks out a year. It could be more -- that number doesn't include dependents the commissioners may add to their plan. Bryant says the added cost burden would come from the general fund.

"It can be absorbed into the parish's budget with little or no effect on the future," Bryant said.

The parish's insurance plan will not be open for commissioners to enroll into immediately. The law wouldn't go into effect until January 2016. Commissioners would have to be reelected in order to joy the benefit.

"We consider benefits to be part of the compensation packet," Bryant explained. "They cannot increase they're compensation in the current term."

The public has to the opportunity to comment on Ordinance 5333 during Thursday's meeting. The meeting takes place at 3:30 PM within Government Plaza. 

 

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