LAWRENCE COUNTY Board OKs 2003 budget



County employees will get a new health insurance provider.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Two Lawrence County commissioners are banking on the sale of property to balance the 2003 budget, but the third commissioner doesn't approve.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the $25.1 million spending plan at their annual New Year's Eve meeting.
Commissioner Ed Fosnaught voted no and said he disagrees with using proceeds from the expected sale of 21 acres of county land on Pa. Route 65 for operating expenses. The property is adjacent to the county nursing home, Hill View Manor.
"Even if I felt we should sell the land and this was a sound offer, which I don't, I still think its bad practice to sell assets to cover costs," he said.
Potential buyer
County commissioners expect to make about $470,000 on the deal. They say more could be realized from the sale and the county is now in negotiations with a potential buyer who also wants the nursing home.
The two other commissioners contend that the money is needed to cover costs because they are unable to raise real estate taxes because of countywide reassessment. State law prohibits the county from raising real estate taxes by more than 5 percent in a year when new land values are put on property by county assessors.
The 2003 budget also reflected several other changes for the new year, including savings from switching health-care companies for employees.
New carrier
County commissioners approved a contract with Health Assurance for about 200 employees and elected officials. It will mean a savings of about $80,000 in 2003 over what previous health insurance carrier Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield was charging, said Charleen Micco, county administrator/chief clerk.
Micco said the biggest savings will be in 2004, when Health Assurance has agreed to raise its rates by no more than 12 percent. Highmark had indicated its rates would be as high as 30 percent more in 2004, she said.
The new health plan is effective today for all employees except those at the jail, sheriff's office and Hill View Manor, who buy their own health coverage through their labor union.
Micco said the savings realized from the switch in health insurance and other items will be used to cover higher expenses in other departments.

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