2 furlough days win panel's OK

City employees' health insurance costs also to rise

City of Augusta employees can look for two furlough days before the end of the year and higher health insurance premiums in 2011.

An Augusta Commission committee approved two furlough days for city employees Monday. Elected officials can decide whether they want to participate and take the unpaid leave.

If approved by the full commission, Nov. 24, the day before the beginning of Thanksgiving holidays, and Dec. 22, the day before the Christmas holidays begin, will be unpaid furlough days for most employees. Most government operations will close on those days.

Employees in operations that require 24-hour-a-day service, such as law enforcement and fire service, will schedule time off during November and December.

City Administrator Fred Russell recommended a 3.5 percent temporary across-the-board pay cut the last two months of the year, which will spread the reduction from the furlough days over five pay periods instead of two.

"We balanced the 2010 budget with four furlough days," Russell said. "Due to economic conditions, we've recommended and programmed (those furlough days) in to run at the end of the year, so that we could look at the budget and see how we were doing. We did fairly well. We were able to eliminate two of those, but because we didn't get money from Georgia Power -- the franchise fee was down about $1.7 million we didn't anticipate -- we decided to go ahead and recommend they take the last two furlough days."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said that in light of the city's financial situation two furlough days is not bad. "This is the first time we've had to impose any furlough days," he said. "When we passed the budget, we anticipated four, and we've managed to reduce it to only two."

Health insurance premiums for coverage for an individual will increase to $47.08 from $40.33 per pay period. Premiums for the employee and one dependent will increase to $97.49 from $80.65, and premiums for family coverage will increase to $147.73 from $120.98.

"The insurance is probably better than we anticipated," Russell said. "We initially thought based on our usage last year the increase was going to be a whole lot higher than that. We were able to negotiate with Blue Cross/Blue Shield to lower it a little bit more. Just this morning they agreed to lower it to 19.75 percent, which is fairly good considering we haven't had increases the past two years."

The government will still pay 77.5 percent of premiums and the employee 22.5 percent. Some commissioners had wanted to increase the amount employees paid, but under the new federal health care law, any changes to the plan would cause the city to lose its grandfathered status and be penalized with higher costs.

Brigham said he questions whether the health care law applies to governments as it does to corporations and businesses.

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