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Local elected officials not alone in getting insurance packages

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Across central Indiana, most counties offer health insurance benefits to elected officials who typically don’t work full-time hours.

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved offering health benefits for themselves and county council members. Those benefits had been ended in 2009. Of eight central Indiana counties, five provide health insurance to commissioners and council members, including Johnson County.

All elected officials are eligible for health insurance in Johnson, Hancock, Boone, Hamilton and Hendricks counties. Madison County provides insurance to commissioners but not council members. The cities of Greenwood and Franklin, as well as Shelby and Morgan counties, do not provide benefits to their council members and commissioners because those officials are considered part-time, county and city officials said.

County commissioners decide for each county throughout the state whether they and the council members will receive health benefits, said Andrew Berger, Association of Indiana Counties director of government affairs. They base that decision on whether the county can afford it, how frequently they work, and whether they are considered part-time, he said.

The county ended health insurance benefits for council members and commissioners to save money when the county faced a budget deficit, Commissioner Tom Kite said. He voted against offering the benefits again.

County officials’ salaries and benefits are set based on a variety of factors, including county population, workload, salaries of officials in other area counties, and how much the government can afford to pay them, Berger said.

Council members, who typically meet once per month to make financial decisions for the county, are considered part-time throughout the state, but whether commissioners are full- or part-time depends on how often they meet and the amount of work they do in between sessions, he said. A county that has a county administrator or manager who handles projects for officials, such as in Hendricks County, is more likely to consider their commissioners part-time because they have an employee doing some of their work, he said.

Commissioners and council members are on-call at all times, so their hours can vary each day depending on projects they’re working on or emergencies, Berger said.

Johnson County does not consider any of its elected officials part-time or full-time because the state government does not make that distinction, Commissioner Ron West said. During a discussion of the health benefits, he said that all officials are eligible for insurance because to exclude only commissioners or council members would be discriminatory.

Each local government should decide to provide insurance based on what they can afford, not whether the officials are full- or part-time, Berger said.

Insurance costs an average of $9,000 per employee for Johnson County. So far this year, insurance has cost the county taxpayers $2.6 million.

In addition to insurance, commissioners and council members throughout central Indiana receive yearly salaries for their work, which could include meeting once a month.

Council members set the annual salaries each year and provide themselves and commissioners with raises. Typically, they raise those salaries by 2 percent only in years when county employees have their pay raised, Johnson County Auditor Jan Richhart said.

Johnson County commissioners are paid $23,091 per year, and council members make $7,727 each year. Of eight central Indiana counties, Hamilton County has the highest salaries for their commissioners, who meet every two weeks and are considered full-time employees. They receive health benefits and an annual salary of $47,690.

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