The County Commissioners and County Manager Bryan Miller met on Wednesday morning, May 22, to continue budget discussions.

It was the third meeting regarding the budget.

This past week, directors from the Parks and Recreations, Planning, Section 8, Public Health, and the Department of Social Services presented the board with rationale as to their respective department’s funding needs.

The meeting opened with the Building Inspector department explaining to the board about a current vacant position. He also said there were talks of hiring a full-time inspector, but recommended to hire only a part-time building inspector.

“We currently do not have someone who is qualified to fill the position,” Miller explained. “The job has been posted for a few months however, it takes three-to-five years to become level 5 certified as a building inspector.”

Although the position is vacant the annual salary must be included in the county’s budget. Miller said the county does have a building inspector working for Section 8.

Discussions quickly progressed as the board continued to hear from department heads about their needs. However, one common need in particular stood out. The majority of departments were requesting new vehicles for county access.

Board Chair Rick McVey expressed his concern by asking Miller how many cars the county had available.

“I keep hearing the same thing every week about getting a vehicle,” he said. “Exactly how many do we have for county use right now? “

“We have 12, sir,” Miller responded. “When I first became County Manager, we had cars that were driven until the tires fell off or the engine died. There is definitely a need for county vehicles.”

This week, the county commissioners found out DSS has five cars, but only two cars are used by the department. They also heard Section 8 is in need of a new car.

Angie Turner, Director of Section 8 explained to the board the car used by the department is old. Currently, the vehicle Turner drives currently has a couple hundred thousand miles on it.

“We have a 1985 Jeep, the engine knocks, and the headliner is falling down.” she said. “I ask for a car every year, but unfortunately, the department never gets one.”

McVey stated that looking into replenishing county cars needs to be assessed before making a final decision to buy new vehicles. Talks moved on to other items including the need for a drone with a camera to be used by the Planning department.

The request comes from Caswell County planner Matthew Hoagland, who currently uses his personal camera to take photographs.

“There is a lot of instances where going onto a property that taking a regular photo is impossible,” he explained. “A drone will help resolve the issue more quickly.”

Some commissioners explained concerns about having drones flying over resident’s private property.

Commissioner Steve Oestreicher said if the drone is going to be used to fly over private property the owner should be notified.

Miller stated to the board that having images taken from above is nothing new.

“Google does this every day, we can wait six months for Google to update or we can do this in real time.” he said.

After talking about drones, discussions shifted to other topics.

Another hot topic of the afternoon involved current health insurance policies for county employees.

Miller said the county recently switched programs and are in the process of transitioning into a self-funded pool. He also said in order for the system to work an increase on insurance premiums will be necessary.

“Last year, for employee only [plans] the board authorized the county pay 100% of that coverage, which is the basic plan,” Miller explained. “For the enhanced plan, the board requested that county employees pay $23.51 for [themselves] and if county employees wanted to add their spouses to the plan employees had to pay $666.85 a month. A county employees who added one child to their plan had to pay $410.48 a month. However, if employees with several children added them to their plan they were responsible to pay $818.59 a month. Some employees are already paying for health insurance and with the July deadline approaching we need to talk about it.

“ I guess our biggest question for the board today… is the board interested in keeping the structure kind of the same [by] funding the same amounts for employees or is the board looking to have employees pay a portion of their health insurance?” he said.

Commissioner David Owen said employees should pay for their health insurance.

“I know it’s bad I have to say this, but I’ve advocated employees paying a portion,” Owen explained. “I paid a portion of mine and granted, I had a much better policy, but I just think if we don’t [charge a portion] all we have next to look at is increasing our taxes on all our citizens to do this.”

Owen said there has to be a way to recruit some of the money without having to increase taxes.

“I realize this is only one of the perks we can give our employees to keep them, but it has to be done,” he said.

Miller explained that there is a restriction on how much employees can pay for health insurance.

“Last year we could have charged employees up to $96 per employee,” he said. “I do not recommend the board charging the full $96. If the board is leaning that way, we should start out at a lower rate to get employees used to the idea of having to pay for their coverage.”

Insurance coverage is going up 11% and the board suggested employees pay $15 for the basic plan and employees with the enhanced plan would pay $15 on top of the $23.51 they currently pay.

Changes in health insurance coverage would affect retired county employees, if the prices on health plans charge they will be responsible for paying the new amounts as well.

The board has until July 1 to make a final decision about health insurance policy changes.

County Commissioners will meet again on Wednesday, May 29 at 9 a.m. to speak with the remaining county departments before deciding on the proposed budget.