The Kanawha County Commission voted unanimously to pass a $57.3 million budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, which includes the switch to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) for employee health insurance.
After holding multiple working sessions with employees since the switch to PEIA was first floated on Feb. 6, Commission President Kent Carper said the time is now to make the move.
“I think it is in the best interest of the county taxpayers, and I am absolutely convinced its in the best interest of our employees that we do this now while we still can,” Carper said.
But with the coronavirus pandemic comes great uncertainty, Carper said, and the entire health care industry is on its heels at the moment.
“Normally I think we would probably be happy to talk about this as really good for the employees; it provides some certainty,” he said. [But] I have no idea what’s going to happen with health care tomorrow, much less today. I would think that we’re safer if we’re in a larger pool, but costs will go up — so the idea we’ve promised, that these savings will be there forever, that was before [the coronavirus pandemic].
The county originally estimated saving $3 million in the first year by switching to PEIA, and said it will use those savings to offset future hikes in premiums. On Thursday, the county projected that depending on the plan they choose, employees will save at least $40 per month, or up to $300 per month, on health insurance costs.
The 2020-21 fiscal year budget will go into place on July 1.
Expect changes in polling locations throughout the next two months, Carper said Thursday.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday afternoon that the state had no plans to push back the May 12 primary election. Carper said that because some of the county’s polling locations are at assisted living homes, schools, public buildings and churches, some last-second site changes may be needed.
“We will do everything we can to let the voters know,” Carper said, noting that under usual circumstances, this would be a huge deal. But he said changes are likely, and the public should be aware now. “We’re going to move a lot of them,” Carper said. “We’re going to do what we have to do.”
State and local officials have strongly encouraged voters to submit absentee ballots for the upcoming election to reduce crowd sizes on Election Day.
As the state and country work to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, Carper said while some smaller counties might choose to shutter until the pandemic is over, Kanawha County has no plans to shut down.
“This county is a full partner with the state of West Virginia. In this county, we have to work; we have to show up,” he said.
On Thursday, the commission voted to freeze all nonessential purchases in the county, and all future costs for the time being must be individually approved by the commission.
A general hiring freeze was also approved, unless that position is needed to combat COVID-19.
“I think we have to tighten our belt,” Commissioner Ben Salango said. “We’ve got to be careful; make sure we’ve got extra money, you never know what the next 60 to 90 days are going to hold.”