COUNTY NEWS: Policies approved; sign ordinance sent back; county health insurance review requested

Conflict of interest, nondiscrimination policies OK’d

The Brown County Commissioners are officially barred from accepting any gifts worth over $300.

The commissioners had a second reading on that conflict of interest policy Aug. 2. They also plan to approve a nondiscrimination policy this week. Both are required under the Community Crossings grant, which has been paying for several large road paving projects in the town and county.

County Attorney Jake German said the $300 gift threshold would allow elected officials and Brown County Highway Superintendent Mike Magner to attend conferences and eat lunch while they are there without violating the policy.

He said engineering or architectural firms host “hospitality rooms” at some of those functions to educate elected officials.

The nondiscrimination policy ensures that Brown County will not “exclude from participation in, deny the benefits of, or subject to discrimination any individual on the grounds of race, color, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, national origin, religion, limited English proficiency or income status.”

The policy also establishes a Title VI coordinator who will administer and implement the plan and policy.

Both of those policies have to be posted to the county’s website before the Indiana Department of Transportation announces winners for the next round of Community Crossings grants, Magner said.

Commissioners vote to send sign ordinance back

The Brown County Commissioners are sending a revision on the county sign ordinance back to the Area Plan Commission. They want the APC to reduce the amount of total signage allowed on residential properties.

During the Aug. 2 meeting, Commissioner Diana Biddle expressed concern about allowing land zoned floodplain, forest reserve, residential (R1 or R2) and local retail to have signs totaling up to 32 square feet. One single sign could be as big as 16 square feet and as tall as 8 feet.

Biddle proposes that R1, R2, floodplain and forest reserve-zoned properties be allowed a maximum of 24 square feet of total signage per lot, with no sign being bigger than 12 square feet.

“We’re allowing signs. We just want to make them smaller in residential areas,” Biddle said.

“My concern is tourism in Brown County and having an abundant number of political litter in the county in the month of October leading up to the election that we can’t regulate.”

A Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona case prompted reviews of sign rules in communities nationwide. In the draft the APC prepared, rules for signs are determined by the zoning district they’re in instead of by the type of sign they are.

The proposed local law changes apply only to signs in Brown County that are outside the boundaries of Nashville.

Resident requests review of county health insurance

A resident has asked the Brown County Commissioners to take another look at the cost of providing health insurance to county employees.

“I am more interested in what the public pays for health insurance and what you pay for health insurance,” Sherrie Mitchell told the board.

“Are your deductibles $8,000 a year? Are your payments costing $700 or $800 or up to $1,000 a month just to have insurance? If not, that is not fair. It should be more in line with what public does.”

The cost to provide medical health insurance to county employees was about $1.8 million for 2016, commissioner Diana Biddle said.

As of the end of June, the county’s total claims — including administration costs, reinsurance premiums, medical costs, pharmacy costs and reinsurance reimbursement — were around $600,000.

Commissioner Dave Anderson said quality health insurance is a draw for employees.

“We don’t pay a lot of money here, but good health insurance is one of those things that will attract a good employee,” he said.

“We’re not trying to be unfair to anybody,” he said.

“The employees we have we know that we’re providing good health insurance for them, we understand that and we’re paying for it. We do pay quite a bit, but I don’t know we need to insure our employees here in accordance with the bottom 25 percent or bottom 30 or so percent.”

The current health insurance contract is already under review since it expires at the end of the year, Biddle said.

Resident Julie Winn asked the board to think creatively, like offering a public clinic similar to what’s in Monroe County.

“I hope you will open up beyond just looking at various insurance company offerings to some creative ideas other counties are looking at and public expert input,” she said.

Human Resources Director Melissa Stinson said the county is already studying different ways to provide health insurance to its employees and save money.

The county has a broker who is researching fully funded options like using Anthem or Blue Cross, traditional self-funded plans and at least two other third-party administrators besides SIHO, Biddle said.

The county will also look at another type of health insurance plan where the cost of coverage is a guaranteed amount for the employee and can be paid in installments.

“There are refunds if you don’t spend as much, but if you go over, you’re not obligated,” Stinson said.

Biddle said prior to establishing the health trust fund — which went live in July and pays health insurance claims — it was difficult to determine the total expenses associated with providing health insurance “because reinsurance would come back and it would go in to county general fund. It wasn’t really refunding our insurance.”

“That was one of the main reasons we went with the health insurance trust fund, which keeps (almost) everything in one pot of money, so we can actually see where it’s going and match the numbers up,” she said.

The hope is that the health trust fund will also develop a cash reserve to help pay expenses during years when the county has high amounts of medical bills, Brown County Auditor Beth Mulry said.