The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to temporarily reinstate retirement benefits for employees at its meeting Thursday.
Through revenue generated in its landfill fund, the county will be able to contribute to employee retirement accounts from November through the end of the fiscal year in June. The commission will then re-evaluate continuing the contributions for the next fiscal year.
The county had to stop the contributions last year to battle declining tax revenues caused by the recession.
At the meeting, the commission debated using about $1.5 million generated in the landfill enterprise fund to cover the cost of restarting the contributions to employee retirement plans.
The revenue is typically used to purchase and repair capital equipment in addition to offsetting any losses that occur throughout the year.
County Administrator Charley Nix recommended it go toward employee retirement accounts though another option was to put the money toward offsetting increased costs to the employees’ health insurance plan.
“All this is about choices and what we feel like is important to do first,” Nix said.
Nix said even with the additional costs, Hall County has a “Cadillac” health insurance plan compared to other governments.
“To me, the last thing to go off when we were trying to do our cost-saving measures was the retirement plan, and I feel like it should be the first thing to come on,” Nix said. “You don’t want to get into the retirement because it takes away the future and the hope from employees.”
Nix hopes to boost employee morale with the retirement contributions after nearly three years of austerity cuts.
County Finance Director Michaela Thompson emphasized that retirement benefits are important to retaining good employees.
“I can quantify that $1.5 million,” Thompson said. “One of Hall County’s greatest assets are their employees. I can’t quantify the cost or the risk if we were to lose sight of that.”
Commissioner Steve Gailey argued for offsetting the increased insurance costs with the funds.
“It could go further than it could possibly go with the retirement,” Gailey said. “I know it’s a small amount of money, but it’s still going to be $33 more a month you’re not going to have when you get your paycheck.”
Commissioner Ashley Bell said it would be unwise to restart the retirement benefits with a one-time infusion of cash.
“The reality is that if we use this money now and it runs out in July ... the only way we can continue this reinstatement of the retirement plan come July is if you vote for it you better be ready to raise taxes to pay for it because there’s no other source of income to continue it,” Bell said.
Commissioner Billy Powell said he looks at it as a temporary measure, not giving and then taking away the retirement benefits.
“This is more money in the employees’ pockets eventually anyway, so I’m going to support it,” Powell said.
The commission voted 3-2 to approve the temporary replacement of retirement contributions. Powell, along with commissioners Bobby Banks and Tom Oliver voted to approve it and Gailey and Bell voted against it.