BROOKSVILLE — Since the beginning of budget discussions earlier this year, Hernando officials have driven home the point that everyone in county government was going to share the pain caused by the decline in property tax revenue.
That meant that even the elected constitutional officers were going to have to endure deeper spending cuts.
While most of those officers met the cuts the county leadership team requested, one area remained out of balance — health benefits for employees.
This week, Commissioner Dave Russell suggested a way to fix that inequity next year.
Russell asked commissioners to agree to have county staffers devise a per-employee allocation' for benefits for the 2012-13 budget year. Each department — those under the commission as well as the constitutional offices — would be given a set number of dollars to purchase medical, dental and life insurance for their employees.
It would then be up to officials to devise their own benefits package, but all would have the same dollar figure per employee with which to work.
That way, the county wouldn't dictate policy since each constitutional officer runs his or her own operation. It would strictly be a monetary decision, which is the responsibility of the commission, Russell said.
The discussion came from a recent round of e-mails that grew out of the news that Tax Collector Juanita Sikes, Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek, Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams and Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai had opted to keep a more expensive benefit package for their employees the day after the commission approved its 2011-12 budget.
The county employees who work for the commission, on the other hand, had negotiated a less expensive package through Teamsters Local 79.
Union leaders expressed concern that the inequity could cost the union a positive ratification vote by county workers on the contract that officials are just wrapping up with the bargaining team.
"This has created a rift,'' Russell said.
The commission asked the constitutional officers, except for the sheriff, who has a separate plan, to cut their budgets further by the amount they would have saved had they opted for the less expensive insurance plan.
Each responded, noting that the benefits packages vary from office to office and that the constitutional officers had already cut significantly from their spending plans.
Russell said he hopes creating the per-employee allocation will clear up the parity problem.
"We have to figure out a way to have a level playing field,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.