As the completion of Haywood County’s 2022-23 budget nears, it becomes apparent that inflation, a tight labor market, and steadily rising health care costs are conspiring against the county to the point of having a potential impact on staffing, especially in public safety.
“All of our departments actually need people,” county executive Bryant Morehead said at a May 2 commission meeting. “As the budget is ongoing, I do not have any of the items requested in the budget.”
In February, county department heads requested 28 new positions, including four for the sheriff’s office and EMS, as well as three for animal services, tax assessor’s office, health department and social services.
In total, post funding would incur a recurring cost of $1.77 million if approved, but that number will almost certainly increase each year as cost of living and insurance cost increases. disease increase.
Merit pay increases and COLA adjustments help the county attract and retain talent in a labor market that favors workers right now.
Coupled with the $175,000 cost of annual Christmas bonuses, those incentives would add another $1.73 million to the budget this year and likely more in subsequent years.
Inflation, however, means that these wage increases are still not enough to give county employees as much purchasing power as they once had. Morehead said that in March, the consumer price index rose 9.2%, far exceeding proposed 5% wage increases for county employees.
Then there is health care. Double-digit percentage increases have been the norm of late, and Morehead told commissioners health insurance has now increased by $1,000 to $18,500 per full-time employee per year.
Overall, Morehead projects a 5.7% increase in health insurance costs for retired employees and a 9.4% increase for active employees, which amounts to approximately $956,000 in the next budget.
This increase brings the county’s total annual health insurance bill to nearly $11.6 million, a staggering but steady increase from 2014, when the total bill was less than $4.25 million.
But it’s not that the county hasn’t tried to keep that tab as low as possible.
The bulk of the county’s health insurance spending is spent on mostly preventable conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, so the county has embarked on a managed care program designed to treat all conditions before they become more costly problems.
However, only 49 employees enrolled in the managed care program. On average, these employees saved about $1,200 in health care costs. Conversely, the 119 eligible employees who did not enroll in the managed care program saw an average increase in health care costs of $6,300.
If all eligible employees participated, Morehead said, the county would save $382,000 a year.
“We really want to spend FY23 getting some people into managed care,” he said.
Ahead of the presentation of the final budget later this month, the commissioners jumped on the staffing issue, at least for the county’s animal services department.
During the same May 2 meeting, Director of Animal Services Howard Martin asked commissioners to replace his six temporary part-time shelter technicians with three permanent full-time technicians.
The commissioners approved the request unanimously; the positions will be paid from lapsed salaries and will have a total budget impact this year of $9,000, depending on the agenda item.
Martin thinks that hiring motivated full-time employees would help reduce turnover.
“The job market is extremely competitive,” said Commissioner Jennifer Best. “You can very well name your price and your position now.”
Individual budget meetings between Morehead and the commissioners will continue throughout this week. The recommended budget will be presented on May 16, with a public hearing on May 31, aiming for a possible adoption vote on June 6.