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County faces 11 percent insurance increase
County faces 11 percent insurance increase

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall was surprised to learn he can vote on matters coming before the county commission even without a tie vote.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Nov. 10, 2008) — Pulaski County faces a major increase in its employee insurance costs, County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer reported at Monday morning’s county commission meeting.

Linnenbringer said members of the Missouri Associated Government Insurance Consortium met last week in Springfield and proposed a new insurance plan with an 11 percent increase in insurance premiums. However, commissioners agreed to raise the deductible so the increase would have less of an impact on county employees.

Previous deductible options offered to employees were a $500 deductible at a cost of $386 per month, a $1,000 deductible for $346 per month, or a $1,500 deductible for $321 per month. For 2008, the county pays $225 per month of those costs, regardless of what plan the employee chooses.

The new plan offered to employees deletes the $500 option and adds a $2,500 deductible option; the dollar amounts corresponding to the 11 percent increase for the new plan weren’t immediately available.

The insurance consortium handles numerous counties in Missouri, but much of the premium increase comes from cost overruns in Pulaski County. That factored into Pulaski County’s decision not to look for other bids on insurance.

“Look at the loss ratio — we know a lot of that was ours,” said Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall. “The insurance companies paid out 36 percent more than what they took in. I don’t think you’re going to find some little insurance company to step in.”

Commissioner Bill Farnham said switching insurance would cause problems for some county employees.

“I know our employees don’t like switching and it affects us with our doctors,” Farnham said, noting that when the county switches insurance that often means employees have to switch doctors if the doctors aren’t on the new insurance carrier’s list of providers.

Some asked for a poll of employees, but Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry said that’s not necessary.

“I don’t know if it makes a lot of difference whether they want to keep it or not, we’ve got to keep our health care costs down. The question is whether we are going to accept this or go out for bids for another carrier,” Thornsberry said. “They’ve got you by the hooks on this insurance.”

While all three commissioners agreed to continue with the consortium, voting on that decision created problems. As presiding commissioner, Ransdall has made a policy of not voting on most issues coming before the county commission and has recently been criticized by his colleagues for that practice.

Farnham voted to approve the new insurance plan with the 11 percent increase; Thornsberry initially didn’t vote which led to Ransdall voting “yes” so the motion wouldn’t die. Thornsberry then voted “yes” as well.

“We need go ahead and make this unanimous,” Thornsberry said.

Ransdall objected to Thornsberry not voting at first, but then casting a vote after Ransdall voted.

“I’ve read the statutes and I can’t find anywhere that I have a vote unless there is a tie or one commissioner is absent, and then I have a ‘super vote,’” Ransdall said.

A “super-vote” allows the presiding commissioner to break what would otherwise be a 1-1 tie on the three-member commission when one commissioner is absent. When the presiding commissioner is absent, statutes allow the county clerk to designate one of the other two commissioners to cast the tiebreaking “super vote.”

That dispute led Ransdall to call Ivan Schroeder, the attorney for Missouri Association of Counties who also represents Pulaski County on various legal issues. Ransdall, a former state representative from Pulaski County who prides himself in knowledge of state law, wasn’t expecting Schroeder’s answer.

“So what you’re saying is the presiding commissioner does not vote if all three members are present? There is no requirement that be votes on anything, no requirement for any commissioner to vote on anything?” Ransdall asked during the phone call.

Thornsberry wasn’t happy with that answer from the attorney.

“I don’t believe that for one d___ minute. I wish I’d known that 7-3/4 years ago; I don’t think I’ll vote on anything anymore,” Thornsberry said.

After he got off the phone, Ransdall said Schroeder advised him of a 1976 court decision that provides details not included in state laws on county commissions.

“The attorney says I am not required or denied a vote,” Ransdall said. “I didn’t even know I could vote … Because it is a small board, it was determined that the presiding commissioner could vote. It was not in statute, but it is in court cases. (Otherwise) if Dennis never voted for the rest of the year and I couldn’t vote, we couldn’t conduct county business.”

Ransdall noted that he often says publicly he agrees with a county decision without recording a vote.

“I am not trying to dodge any votes,” Ransdall said.

Thornsberry disagreed.

“Agreeing and voting are two different things,” Ransdall said. “I think it looks a lot cleaner when everybody records their vote.”

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