By Bob Zientara

A county budget process that started nearly two months ago is headed into its closing stages as the Barron County Board of Supervisors faces a state-imposed deadline of Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, to publish its final spending plan for calendar year 2020.

A key part of the process happens today, Wednesday, Oct. 2, as the County Board holds a special meeting at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the largest single fringe benefit available to county workers – health insurance.

Jeff French, county administrator, said last week that the County Board will consider leaving its existing health insurance carrier, Wisconsin Physicians Service, and switch to a partly self-insured program.

“Based on our (yearly) average of (health insurance) claims, it appears to be advantageous to transition to a partially self-funded plan,” French said Friday, Sept. 27.

The Horton Group, a Waukesha, Wis.-based group insurance consulting firm, was in the process of negotiating key insurance strategies to nail down a finished agreement to be presented to the County Board today.

While the goal of switching to self-funded insurance is to save money, the County Board must also consider the fact that the program will require a longer-term commitment than the county has had with previous plans, he added.

“This requires a vote (of the full County Board) because we will be moving money around and creating a new fund,” French said.

As of now, the county:

• Provides health insurance for 654 people (including individual employees and/or their families).

• Charges employees a $50 premium for single coverage and $100 for families, as well as requiring a $2,000 deductible payment for individuals and $4,000 for families.

• Pays a monthly premium of $850.04 for single coverage and $2,124 for families.

All told, the current health insurance plan costs $5,363,225.80, French added.

Seventh draft HHS

budget approved

Meanwhile, the County Board Health and Human Services Committee met Monday, Sept. 30, to review (and approve) a 2020 budget of more than $15.8 million, including a local tax levy of $6,878,085. Additional funds from state and federal sources will provide the remainder of the funding.

Because of increased expenses – primarily from taking care of children removed from homes where methamphetamine and other drug abuse has taken place – the Health and Human Services Department has been operating at a deficit this year. Estimated at $1 million at midsummer, the shortfall had been reduced to about $789,000 by the time the Health and Human Services committee met Sept. 30.

Stacey Frolik HHS director, thanked her staff for producing the budget that was approved Monday – the seventh time that the department has drafted a budget proposal.

Committee chair Karolyn Bartlett, a Dist. 5 supervisor for the Dallas area, agreed.

“(Budget work) kind of consumes you this time of year – especially with that deficit,” she said.

A related story on the county budget appears elsewhere in today’s News-Shield.