July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Health coverage nixed for elections board members

MEDINA — Taxpayers won’t be providing health insurance coverage for future members of the Medina County Board of Elections.

County commissioners agreed Monday to eliminate the coverage as a cost-saving measure.

Under Ohio law, the county can choose to exclude part-time and unelected officials from the county’s medical coverage.

Coverage will denied only to new board members. The four members — two Democrats and two Republicans — now serving won’t be affected.

County Administrator Chris Jakab said the savings are substantial. He said the county spent $49,000 on health insurance for the four elections board members last year and expects to spend about $43,000 this year.

Jakab said the bill would have been much higher — up to $76,000 — if all the members picked the highest cost, low-deductible plan with family coverage.

In addition to saving money, Jakab said the decision to cut the coverage was aimed at “ensuring consistency in the organization whereby only full-time employees and elected officials are eligible for County health care benefits.”

Seats on the board of elections are part-time posts, paid $11,500 a year.

Chairman Donald L. Baker, a Democrat, and Bill Heck, a Republican, were both appointed in March 2010. Their terms expire in March 2014. Pamela B. Miller, the other Democrat, and Republican Teresa J. Cotman were appointed in March 2012 and will serve until March 2016.

Baker will be leaving early because he has been appointed fiscal officer for Granger Township to replace Barbara L. Beach, who resigned. Ohio law prohibits elected officials from serving on the board and Baker will have to run in the November election to retain the fiscal officer’s post.

Baker’s replacement will be the first board member to begin service under the new rule.

“I’m sad to see that go because I don’t think a lot of people realize how much work is involved when you’re a board member,” Baker said.

Baker, a self-employed financial consultant, relied on the county for health insurance, but said he understands the need for budget cuts in the face of reductions in state funding.

Miller said the county plan is her primary insurance provider, but she also thinks the commissioners’ decision is understandable.

But Heck said the commissioners may be taking advantage of the board. He said their salaries already do not reflect the state standard for a county with Medina’s population.

Heck, who is a global client director at British Telecomm Global, and president of the board at the Medina County Community Fund, said census data indicates the board members’ $11,500 salaries should increase by about $1,000. He said the board has not requested the increase in consideration of the county’s finances.

“People don’t take that job for the pay, it’s for the benefits,” Heck said. “This changes the dynamic of who would be available and interested in taking the position.”

Heck added, “I would hope that if they’re going to take it away from us they would consider taking it from other county employees as well as themselves, the commissioners.”

Cotman said she had no comment.

Several other Ohio counties also have eliminated health insurance for their election boards.

In 2008, Trumbull County’s board of commissioners revoked the insurance benefits of that county’s board of elections. The election officials sued the board unsuccessfully and elections board director Kelly Pallante said board members do not have health insurance.

Aaron Ockerman, director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said the option to cut the health insurance coverage was including in the 2005 state budget bill. The measure was pushed by former state Rep. Chuck Blasdel, of Columbiana County, which was one of the first counties to eliminate the coverage.

“It is definitely a trend, and one by one counties are dropping that insurance,” Ockerman said.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.