|Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter|
Hunter, who made these remarks at County Council meetings on September 16 and 17, credited Budget Administrator Doran J. Hamann for foreseeing and building a budget around this possibility. He and Executive John Brown warned Council they will have to spend between $5-7 million more through October.
No Smoking Ordinance Goes Up in Smoke
Though the County will be spending more of its own money for human services, none will be spent for "No Smoking" signs. That's because Council narrowly defeated a Seth Vaughn ordinance that would ban smoking on all County property, except for designated areas at Gracedale and at county parks. It would ban increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, and even remove designated smoking areas.
This ordinance was tabled in July, but Vaughn succeeded in getting the matter re-considered after walking into the courthouse through a cloud of smoke in a designated smoking area outside.
Hayden Phillips called the proposal "an infringement on our personal freedoms," and both he and Ken Kraft referred to the "nanny state" regulating people's lives. Admitting to being "fully torn," non-smoker Glenn Geissinger said he had difficulty "continuing to regulate something that's legal."
Denying any intent to take away anyone's rights, Seth Vaughn's argument was quite simple. "Smoking kills people," he declared. In response to concerns raised by Scott Parsons and Bob Werner about the lack of a penalty, Vaughn called the ordinance a "culture change" that would be followed without the need for sanctions.
Lamont McClure was persuaded by a tobacco sign he recently saw at a gas station, warning him that second hand smoke kills people. Peg Ferraro argued that measures like these will reduce health care costs.
After everyone had weighed in, Vaughn's measure was supported by McClure, Ferraro and Mat Benol. It was opposed by Parsons, Werner, Kraft and Phillips.
Glenn Geissinger simply voted "present," which in this instance was the equivalent of a No vote. That effectively sent Vaughn's measure up in smoke.
Council, particularly Lamont McClure, was also concerned about the increasing number of employee complaints that health care coverage is being denied for medications and procedures ordered by physicians, from Nexium to mammograms. "It's one thing to ask people to pay more, but also to see the quality of care diminished?" he asked. "That's mean." McClure questioned whether these reductions are coming from the Brown administration, but Executive John Brown and Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen strongly denied that they are behind any of the reductions that have come from the County's third-party health administrator, Capital Blue Cross.
Seth Vaughn, who works in the nursing field, called it a "systemic problem." He added that "[i]nsurance companies are finding new and creative ways" to reduce costs. "I think it's terrible. The Affordable Care Act is the main driver to this." Scott Parsons blamed the "health care industry as a whole."
Allen told Council that employees with health care coverage problems should contact her and she will work to resolve the matter, in some cases seeking exceptions. Brown echoed Allen."We encourage employees to come forward and make us aware."
Council also had a lengthy discussion about payraises that Executive John Brown gave to 14 employees in 2014 without Council approval. Council Solicitor Phil Lauer had ruled they were illegal for that reason, but County Solicitor Ryan Durkin argued that the Executive provided these raises in accordance with an employee policy manual.
Whether legal or illegal, one thing nearly everyone seemed to agree on is that the employees who benefited from these raises may now rely on that extra income. Sensing that there was an "opportunity to de-escalate," Lamont McClure suggested leaving the raises intact until the end of the year, and then reviewing them as part of the budget process.
McClure's measure passed 8-1, with only Hayden Phillips dissenting.