WELLSBURG - Future Brooke County employees will contribute 20 percent of their health coverage following a vote by the Brooke County Commission Tuesday.
Commissioners Tim Ennis and Norma Tarr supported the move, saying it would help the county to cut costs for health care, while Commissioner Marty Bartz voted against, saying lesser paid employees will have to work up to 10 hours of overtime to afford the coverage.
The plan, which applies only to future hirees and newly elected county officials, also will require employees to accept coverage through their spouses' employers if that's available.
Its adoption is pending the legal opinion of County Prosecutor David B. Cross.
Ennis said the move is a way to phase in employee contributions without affecting the county's current employees.
"You have to start at some point, and it's a good, fair starting point," he said.
Ennis said while the commission was able to negotiate recently for continued coverage at the same cost for the current fiscal year, the cost usually rises every few years while the county's revenue has decreased.
Tarr said, "We're looking down the road for the future. It's going to save the county money and that's what we're about."
Bartz said he was prepared to support it until he learned some county employees are paid at or close to the $7.25 per hour minimum wage and their health care contribution would take much from their paychecks.
He suggested the commission provide new employees a different coverage plan, with lesser coverage but also a lesser cost that could be shared by employees.
He noted Brooke County school employees may chose from two plans to suit their needs and income.
But the other commissioners said the county wouldn't be able to adopt such a plan until next year.
In other business:
County Sheriff Richard Ferguson reported on efforts to clean up the site of the county's former animal shelter off Allegheny Street. The building has been unused since the new shelter opened at the former Windsor Coal headquarters at 44 Hollow in Beech Bottom.
Ferguson said the property's ownership will revert to the city of Follansbee.
The cleanup was funded by a portion of a $15,000 Governor's Community Partnership Grant received for cleanups involving dilapidated structures. The grant was used earlier to remove thousands of pounds of material from two unoccupied trailers, one on Riverview Road near Wellsburg and the other on Third Street on Hooverson Heights.
Ferguson said the remaining funds may be used to remove two sheds on an unoccupied Hooverson Heights property that have become home to vermin and for the removal of two vacant structures by the county courthouse he believes present a fire hazard.
Ferguson said he's been monitoring heavy truck traffic from natural gas drilling sites on Genteel Ridge and Rabbit Hill roads and at Brooke Hills Park, where hydraulic fracturing has begun. He said it takes 500 to 700 truckloads of water for the procedure, and he saw 47 trucks leave the Genteel Ridge site in 30 minutes.
The sheriff said the drivers appear to be "doing their best to be safe."
Bartz noted six cats and seven dogs were adopted from the animal shelter last month and suggested efforts to find homes for the animals could be stepped up.
Donna DeJaro, the shelter's director, said she will be bringing animals from the shelter to a pet-related event at the Tractor Supply store in Follansbee at 10 a.m. Saturday, pending suitable weather.
She and Wayne Buxton of Animal Advocates- Brooke County, an independent group that has brought dogs from the shelter to the Weirton Wal-Mart and Pittsburgh's Giant Eagle Market District, said the recent excessive heat has kept them from pursuing more public appearances promoting adoptions.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)