County employees oppose insurance change

During its meeting on October 21, the Pocahontas County Commission changed the county’s dental and vision insurance provider from the West Virginia Association of Counties (WVAC) to Guardian. The Guardian plan is slightly less expensive than the WVAC plan, with similar coverage. The county does not subsidize the plan and employees pay 100 percent of their insurance premium.

During the Commission meeting on Monday morning, county elected officials and employees voiced their dismay with the Commission’s action. County Clerk Missy Bennett said some employees are unhappy because they were not consulted before the Commission made the change.

“Some of the concerns are – it’s their money and you’re deciding what insurance they’re going to spend their money on,” she said. “Another issue is – we don’t know how long this price is guaranteed. The rates are cheaper, at this point, but are they a guaranteed rate for so many years? With the West Virginia Association of Counties, it’s only increased twice in the past 15 years.”

Assessor Tom Lane opposed the change.

“I don’t feel like changing dentists and going through that much of a hassle for the small amount of difference in the insurance,” he said. “I think I should have the option to stay with the group that I’ve been with, since I’m 100 percent contributing to it.”

Circuit Clerk Connie Carr said the change caught her office by surprise.

“I just wonder why you took employee’s private money and switched it over to this plan,” she said. “We didn’t know about it. It was on the agenda, but I guess nobody saw the agenda. We’re like everybody else; we want to know what the difference is and if our providers are in it or will be accepted in it.”

Courthouse Maintenance Supervisor Mike Cain said many area dentists are not part of the Guardian network.

“The dentist I go to is Meadows, down in Lewisburg,” he said. “There are several of them here who are not a part of that association.”

Commissioner Jamie Walker said a Guardian representative had discussed the process to become a Guardian network member dentist.

“He told us that it was very simple – that basically all they had to do was fill out a form,” said Walker.

“That’s true, it is easy to get in, but your provider has to be willing to accept what they pay,” replied Bennett.

Bennett said Guardian’s slightly lower premiums could increase.

“They’re going to save a dollar – they’re going to save $12 a year,” she said. “If it goes up next year, are they going to save that $12?”

Walker asked if the county could use both insurance providers.

“West Virginia Association of Counties said they would like to have at least 10 employees or 20 percent, whichever is greater,” said Bennett. “I figured roughly 60 employees, that would be 12 employees.”

Commissioner David Fleming said the Commission needs to determine if Guardian allows multiple providers, as well.

“Let’s see if the two plans are allowed,” he said. “If they are, then we’ll need to take action to reinstate the former plan at our upcoming Commission meeting. Based on our input from [Guardian representative] Dave Barton, then we will add that to the next agenda.”

Fleming said Guardian is the best choice if the county can have just one provider.

“If [Guardian] will not participate if another plan is invited, I still think [Guardian] is a better plan to go with,” he said. “It’s the one endorsed by the County Commissioners’ Association of West Virginia. I’m comfortable leaving the decision as it is, given the input so far, unless we need to add both plans.”

The Commission deferred action on the dental/vision plan until more information is obtained on using multiple insurance providers.

Commission provides financial help to local groups

Sandy Irvine and Larry Lucas requested a $4,500 contribution for the Pocahontas County Farmers’ Market to help pay for a part-time manager. Lucas discussed the growth of the Farmers’ Market.

“We just finished our ninth year as a farmers’ market organization,” he said. “The last four years have shown some real growth in vendor sales. In 2011, it was around $22,000. In 2012, it was $27,000. In 2013, it went up to $42,300. This past year that we just finished, we had vendor sales of $53, 600.

“How does that benefit Pocahontas County? One of the very important issues that we hear discussed by the County Commission is jobs. This is not a direct job, but that $53,000, we believe, represents indirect jobs. It puts money in people’s pockets and they buy and re-buy and sell, whether it’s gasoline, groceries or what-not.”

Lucas said growth had created a need for better management.

“The Farmers’ Market has become increasingly difficult to manage with volunteers,” he said. “That’s why we believe we need to hire a market manager. We’re requesting $4,500 to supplement the market manager. The manager will work on expanding vendor sales, manage things like the EBT machine and the SNAP program, the senior voucher program, and the WIC program. We provide services for all that.”

Lucas said the Farmers’ Market would contribute an estimated $5,000 to pay the manager. The group expects to see additional growth.

“It seems very reasonable to believe that, in three or four years, it could extend to over $100,000,” said Lucas. “That $100,000 might be the equivalent of six indirect jobs in this county – sustainable jobs. After another three or four years, it has more potential than that, as more people get involved.”

Commissioner William Beard supported the request.

“I think it’s a way for us to move forward,” he said. “I feel strongly that it’s a benefit for the county. I think it’s a small amount for the county to put in, really.”

Walker also supported the request.

“I’ve noticed, just from the looks of the growth, that over the last four or five years, it’s expanded greatly,” he said. “So, I can see where Mr. Lucas’ theory of $100,000 is definitely possible. It’s money in the county, whether you consider it a job or hobby or whatever.”

The Commission unanimously approved a $4,500 contribution to the Farmers’ Market. The Commission also approved a $5,000 contribution to Linwood Alive to help build a community pavilion.

The Commission took no action on a request by Christina Kimble to purchase 1.14 acres at the East Fork Industrial Park. The acreage adjoins Kimble’s father’s property in Frank. Commission Assistant Sue Helton said state code allows the county to sell property, but the sale must be by auction on the Courthouse steps. The Commission deferred action on the sale until it receives advice on a rail easement from Prosecuting Attorney Eugene Simmons.

In other business, the County Commission:
– Approved continuing with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation as the county’s lead economic development organization, and;
– Appointed J.L. Clifton to the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for November 18 at 5:30 p.m.

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