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Dodge County’s sick day benefit extended: Workers may opt for payout upon retirement

June 20, 2018 GMT

JUNEAU — A proposal to extend a health care benefit to Dodge County employees was approved by the board of supervisors Tuesday night.

During the monthly board meeting, supervisors approved extending health care coverage after retirement, using pay for unused sick days to help defray the cost of medical insurance. The benefit is offered to both union and non-union employees.

Debate was long and rancorous, with some board members arguing that the Post Employment Health Plan is too costly to extend for the proposed two years. Similar benefits have been under siege elsewhere as healthcare costs rise and employers cut benefits to defray those costs.

“Why extend this for two years instead of one?” questioned board member Cathy Houchin. “Is this feasible financially? I just don’t know how we can afford it.”

“We don’t have near enough information,” said alderman Jeff Berres before making a motion to send the matter back to committee.

Board member Jeff Schmitt asked for more time to examine the costs and other details of the plan, although human resources director Sarah Hinze countered that the policy had been placed on supervisors’ desks prior to the meeting. She added that the Human Resources and Labor Relations Committee meetings are always open to the public and the details of benefits are available on the county’s website (co.dodge.wi.gov).

She added that employees’ hours can be used for their own illnesses and also may be transferred to other employees in the event of dire illness. In the event of a death, the health care payments (for health care coverage only) may be transferred to a spouse or eligible dependents. Employees may also put a limited number of hours into an emergency sick leave bank, although that is never paid out after retirement.

“In my opinion, the committee did what they were supposed to do and asked the hard questions before bringing this forward,” Hinze said. “This allows retiring employees to plan two years out. It’s all over the board how having a PEHP plan will impact their decisions to stay at their jobs or to retire earlier.”

Supervisor Joe Marsik called it a win-win.

“Instead of having employees taking extended time off at the end of their employment at 100 percent of their pay, the county pays up to 960 hours of compensation at 80 percent of full value,” Marsik said. “That can only be used for health care. It’s tax-free for them and it’s tax free for us.”

Supervisor Dan Hilbert, a retired federal employee, said, “This is nothing different than many other plans offered by the federal government. It’s nothing new if you’re a private employee. Employees should be grateful for it and employers benefit by being able to offer it. There’s less disruption in service when someone retires and it’s paid out at 80 percent, so it’s a benefit to us as well.”

County administrator Jim Mielke noted the plan was “not as generous as some of the other plans that are out there.” He added that payouts to the plan cost $298,000 for 22 people in 2017 and $192,000 for 18 employees in 2016. The average cost is $200,000 per year for 20 employees.

Up to 180 employees are eligible to participate in the two-year extension of the plan, which would have sunset on Dec. 31 of this year.

“Employees have earned these hours. This is a benefit to them and to the county,” said supervisor Dennis Schmidt.

The vote to send the matter back to committee was defeated 24-6. The vote to approve the plan for the next two years was approved with a 25-5 vote.