County attorney addresses health insurance changes, ambulance service

The Clare County Board of Commissioners held their regular meeting on Wednesday, June 6, 2012, with an abundance of topics on their agenda.

Jennifer Martin from Cadillac Insurance came before the Board to present insurance options for the upcoming year.  As of August 1st, which is when the County will be renewing their policy, the rates from Blue Cross are expected to go up 13 percent if the County keeps its current coverage.  Martin explained the available options, which are limited after the passage of PA152.  PA152 dictates that public employers need to have employees pay 20 percent of their health care costs or opt to place a hard cap on spending for families and individuals.

After explaining all the policy options, Martin recommended that the County turn its one plan into three plans for employees to choose from.  The addition of a Blue Cross Network plan, Martin explained, would be similar to an HMO, and that several options might better suit the situations of various employees.

County attorney Dave Stoker from the firm of Cohl, Stoker and Toskey came before the Board at their request to answer legal questions regarding several matters that had been of concern to the Board.  Stoker first explained how PA152 will affect the County.  “Essentially, none of this act has impacted you and will not until this July.  Okay, August 1st, because that’s when your plan year rolls around,” Stoker told the Board.

At that time, the Board has three options:  default (which is to opt for hard caps), 80/20, or opting out, which is to vote to exempt the County from the law.  Stoker explained that the hard cap meant that the employer can pay no more for insurance than a set amount, which is determined by how many family, couple and individual policies your employees have.  Each family, couple or individual has a capped amount as to how much the employer can pay, but Stoker said the act was worded in such a way that the cap need not apply to any one family, couple or individual, but rather, would be an aggregate amount determined by the caps for each group times the number of policies in that group, and then adding each group’s totals together.

The 80/20 option would require a majority vote by the Board every year before August 1st and must apply to all employees.  80/20 can also be applied as an aggregate rather than an individual policy amount, except for elected officials.  According to Stoker, all elected officials must pay a minimum of 20 percent.

Finally, opting out of the law would require a 2/3 vote of the Board, and would need to be renewed every year.

Stoker then addressed cell phone costs being partially reimbursed by the County for employees who use their personal phones for business.  “The IRS basically said last September if what you pay them is reasonable, and reasonably related to the cost of the business use of the phone, and they’re required to have the phone as part of their job to respond on non-duty hours, you do not have to put that contribution in as taxable,”

Stoker told the Board, noting that “unreasonable” would be considered payment in excess of what the phone service costs.  Stoker said that generally the Courts “are not subject to FOIA, period.”  When asked if persons could legally have access to phone records that were on a personal phone that was not reimbursed by the County, Stoker answered, “A subpoena, they could then look at all your records.  It would not be my opinion that the other personal phone calls would be something to give out unless there’s a subpoena.  That’s the risk of whenever you’re doing public business on [your own personal phone].”

While paying a stipend for the business use of personal phones is not required, Stoker noted, “There are circumstances where that would be prudent to, quite frankly.”

Perhaps the largest issue on the agenda for Mr. Stoker was the questions the Board had regarding who has what authority over the protocol and dispatching of ambulances.  When asked if the Commission had the authority to make MMR and United Rescue be directly dispatched by the County’s 911/Central Dispatch, Stoker replied that the Medical Control Authority Board dictates what equipment ambulances must have, including communication equipment, and what protocols they must follow.

“You can approach MMR and see if they’ll allow you to do that.  In some counties, it is my understanding they do direct dispatch.  I’m assuming the question was, ‘Can we force them to do that?’” Stoker’s answer was basically that the Board of Commissioners had no authority to do that.  “They [the Medical Control Authority Board] have the authority under the State statute to set local protocols to deal with communication requirements — of first responders, of hospitals, and of basic and advanced life support.  And as part of their license requirements, they have to comply with not only the State protocols, but he local ones,” Stoker said.  Stoker continued, “The Medical Control Board is basically hospital driven; it’s where the patient ends up.”

When asked if United Rescue’s recent change from an ambulance service to an authority mattered as to how ambulances would be dispatched, Stoker said that, under the current protocol of always sending the closest ambulance, the “authority” title would not matter.  He noted that, for non-emergency transports, for instance, the Medical Control Board could allow residents to stipulate the use of one ambulance service over another, but that is not the current protocol.  “They get to make the policy and we have to follow it,” Stoker said, adding, “911 is required to follow the guidelines of Medical Control.”

Stoker answered several questions from the Board and from residents attending the meeting.  Most questions were asking for ways that might be available to residents to receive service from United Rescue rather than MMR.

Stoker said, “Every basic and advanced life support provider has to have a State license. Part of that license is where they’re allowed to operate.”  He said he did not know how the State would respond if townships were to request that MMR not be allowed to have a license to operate within their jurisdiction.  “Obviously, it’s a volatile issue. The only way this Board can take full control is to run your own ambulance,” Stoker said.

Lieutenant Ed Williams from the Sheriff’s Department came before the Board to ask that they be allowed to promote a part-time employee into a full-time position temporarily.  Williams explained that he is currently assuming the duties of Undersheriff, but will not be seeking the position.  When Sheriff Wilson hires an Undersheriff, Williams will go back to his regular duties, and the deputy promoted to full-time will return to part-time status.  The Board approved the request unanimously, through December 31st, at which time, if an Undersheriff is not yet hired, the Board can vote to extend the arrangement.

Lt. Williams also asked the Board for permission to sell four older vehicles, with the proceeds of that sale to go towards new tires for patrol cars.  The Board approved that request as well, stipulating that the department follow proper accounting procedures, as sale of the vehicles would need to be revenue into one fund, and the purchase of tires would have to come out of a different fund.

The request from Senior Services to waive the waiting period for insurance for a newly hired worker was defeated by a vote of 2-5.  Voting for the measure was Commissioners Lynn Grim and Jerry Burger.  Voting against the measure was Commissioners Don David, Jack Kleinhardt, Jim Gelios, Karen Lipovsky and Leonard Strouse.

After that vote was taken, the Board voted unanimously to adhere to the current policy in place and allow no more waivers.

Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger reported that the auction from last year offered 92 properties, compared to the 108 that are in foreclosure this year.  While the auction in 2010 did not make enough money to cover the delinquent property taxes, Beemer-Fritzinger said the 2011 auction did.  This year’s auction will be held at the Beaverton Bowling Alley on August 17th, with registration at 11:00 a.m. and the auction starting at 12:00 noon.

One of the County’s unions requested that the Board approve a Letter of Understanding that would allow sick time to be donated to an employee across union units.  As written, the Letter of Understanding would be an addition to the existing union contract.   After discussion, Commissioners decided they did not want to open the contract, and that it was an item to be negotiated.  The Board did express a willingness to considering such a sick time donation arrangement on a case-by-case basis.

In other business at their June 6th meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners:

*voted unanimously to allow IT Coordinator Jim Neff to get a new computer.

*was informed that County Clerk Pam Mayfield appointed Karen Nevill to the Board of Canvassers.

*concurred with a Livingston County resolution regarding not reducing aircraft or airmen stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

*was informed by Sherry Spoelman from MSU Extension that Michelle Neff  received a distinguished service award from the Michigan Extension 4-H Use Staff; only two of these awards were given out in Michigan this year.

*voted to change a Central Dispatch part-time position to a full-time position and create a new non-union supervisory position, with all monies to come from 911 funding.

*approved a motion to pay the Magistrate $33 per month towards her cell phone cost and e-fax application, by a vote of 6-1, with Commissioner Lipovsky dissenting.

*approved an Emergency Preparedness budget adjustment in the amount of $3,000 to cover a need for increased travel and expenses.

*approved budget adjustments to purchase three LED monitors for the Corrections control room, to correct an overage in revenue in the 911 budget, and to move funds to purchase GIS Imagery previously approved by the Board.

*approved the Sheriff’s Department request to purchase three widescreen LED monitors at the cost of $349.97 for the control center.

*approved a Treasurer’s Department budget adjustment in the amount of  $400,000 to account for the appropriation to the general fund.

*unanimously passed a resolution to authorize the issuance of refunding bonds in the principal amount, not to exceed $720,000.