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Macon-Bibb County employees get benefits on taxpayers’ dime

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Our new project Macon Me Curious needs your questions to get started. You ask, and we find the answers. So tell us: What have you always wondered about, found peculiar or downright confusing about where you live? Share at www.macon.com/curious .

What do Macon-Bibb County employees pay for their health insurance premiums and benefits?

That was the question posed to us by a reader through Macon Me Curious, a new project of the Center for Collaborative Journalism in partnership with The Telegraph and GPB Macon. Macon Me Curious takes questions from the community and assigns reporters to find the answers.

As the Macon-Bibb County Commission debated the millage rate, some commissioners and residents raised concerns about the amount of money spent on employee benefits. All full-time employees are eligible for the county’s health insurance and retirement plans, and their benefits account for tens of millions of dollars in the budget annually.

In 2017, the county spent about $25 million on employee insurance, said Kendall Countryman, the county’s benefits and compensation officer. He said he expected the county’s health care costs to remain about the same this year.

Of the county’s 1,676 full-time employees, 1,427 have opted into one of the county’s health insurance plans. Retirees are also eligible for coverage until they qualify for Medicare, and 381 retirees are currently covered through the county’s health insurance program.

Macon-Bibb offers three insurance plans with multiple tiers for different levels of coverage, Countryman said. The amount that employees pay for health insurance depends on which plan they choose and how many dependents they have.

Depending on the plan, an employee without any dependents can pay anywhere between $200.20 and $239.20 for his or her monthly premium. On the other hand, a married employee with multiple children can spend between $520 and $629.20 per month on premiums. County workers who smoke also pay an additional tobacco surcharge of $43.34 a month.

Employees pay for 30 percent of their total monthly premium, and the county covers the other 70 percent, Countryman said. In all, the county spends anywhere between $487.70 and $1,435.80 per employee on monthly premiums.

Countryman said the county’s health care costs have increased in recent years, which has prompted the benefits committee to consider making changes to the employee insurance plan.

Last year, the county altered some of its copays to account for the rising cost of claims and other fees, and more change is likely to come. In the hopes of reducing costs, Countryman said the benefits committee is accepting bids from different insurance companies to potentially replace the county’s current provider. Any changes would take effect in January.

Retirement benefits also run a steep cost for the county. According to the fiscal 2018 budget, Macon-Bibb County has budgeted between $8 million and $10.4 million for employee retirement benefits each year since 2014. For fiscal 2018, the county budgeted to spend over $10.1 million on its employee retirement plan.

Employees who retire on their normal retirement date receive a monthly retirement payment of one-twelfth of 50 percent of their average compensation, though the amount increases for employees with 25 or more years of experience, according to the Macon-Bibb County Code of Ordinances. Employees can calculate their expected retirement benefits on the county’s online retirement calculator.

While employees must cover about 30 percent of their health care expenses under the county’s plan, they do not contribute to their retirement benefits. With the exception of a handful of State Court employees who have state pension plans, all full-time Macon-Bibb County employees are guaranteed a pension that is completely funded by the county government.

Countryman said the benefits committee is considering a different retirement plan for new hires, in which the county would match contributions from employees towards their pensions.

Do you have a question you want answered? What are you curious about? Let us know at macon.com/curious.

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/samantha.max.9 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.

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