County looking at giving those who retire before age 55 a break on insurance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Changes proposed in the county’s retirement policy would allow employees to retire earlier with free health insurance.
As many as a dozen current county employees would be affected if the change occurs.
A key element is the requirement that the employee be 55 years old.
Ken Deal, director of administration, said the county has about a dozen employees who have as much as 30 years in service with the county but aren’t 55.
Deal cited several counties that have recently changed their policy to allow the employees to leave earlier.
It’s viewed as way to cut costs in the current recession, allowing the county to replace a high-salaried employee with one earning much less.
A request from Maj. Tim Bost of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office sparked the review.
Bost has more than the 20-consecutive years required for retirement, but he isn’t 55. Deal said Bost apparently has 30 years with the county, but some records are apparently missing. Bost’s request for a change recently went to the county’s Personnel Board.
Since then, a review of the policy has been under way.
In 2002, the county adopted a retiree health insurance program that provides free insurance until a person turns 65 and goes on Medicare.
The county is self -insured and sets aside about $656 a month per employee and retiree, or $7,872 annually, to pay for medical costs.
There are 32 former employees receiving the health insurance benefit.
A retiree seeking full insurance benefits must qualify for unreduced benefits through the N.C. Local Government Employee’s System (the agency that handles county retirement programs) and must have worked full time for the county for at least 20 consecutive years and be at least 55.
Under the proposed change, the age 55 requirement would be removed.
The policy regarding department directors would also be changed. Currently, a department director can use the benefit if qualifying for unreduced benefits through the N.C. Local Government Employees System and having 15 consecutive years with Rowan County, 10 of those years being a department director, and being 55.
A director is also eligible under the current policy if he or she qualifies for reduced benefits under Local Government Employees System, has worked for the county full time as a department director for 10 consecutive years and is at least 60.
Under the proposed revision, a department director who qualifies for full Local Government Employees System benefits and has worked for the county for at least 15 years with 10 as a director, would qualify for the free health insurance.
Deal, who already qualifies for the insurance under the current policy and is 55, is supporting the changes.
He cited counties, including Iredell, that have stricken the age requirement.
The proposal for the change will go to the Personnel Board, which includes Deal, Carl Ford (chairman of the Board of Commissioners), Chad Mitchell (vice chairman) and County Manager Gary Page.
If the board approves the changes, it would go to the full board of commissioners for a vote.
Ford said he is aware that as many as 10 employees could retire early if the policy is changed.
But Ford said recently he doesn’t think the board will change the policy for 10 employees.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.