BAY CITY, MI — Those who were elected Tuesday to the Bay County Board of Commissioners receive or retain more than just a title.
And for those who are at or nearing a decade of public service, there are some nice, lifetime benefits.
On Election Day, Nov. 8, there were five contested races for a seat on the county commission:
• Democrat Michael Duranczyk defeated Republican Brandon DeFrain in the 1st District 3,660-3,652.
• Republican Vaughn Begick defeated Democrat Abel Torres in the 3rd District 5,719-2,818.
• Democrat Kim Coonan defeated Republican Chad Sibley in the 4th District 4,094-2,615.
• Democrat Tom Herek defeated Republican Randy Badgerow in the 5th District 3,775-2,297 (Independent Bruce Eckhart had 682 votes).
• Democrat Tom Ryder defeated Republican Christopher Shannon in the 6th District 3,344-2,183.
Those elected to the county commission earn a salary of more than $ 12,000, a $ 25 to $ 45 meeting per diem for sitting on additional county boards, mileage for all business-related trips and healthcare benefits.
The healthcare item is the newest perk for the county board since the board voted 6-3 in 2010 to eliminate it from their compensation package. Following that vote, all new commissioners to the board weren’t eligible for healthcare benefits.
But since December 2015, healthcare is back on the table, in part due to requirements with the Affordable Care Act. The federal legislation requires large organization employers — such as the county — to provide healthcare to all full-time employees, defined as anyone working 29 hours or more each week on average.
At that Dec. 8 meeting, the board voted 5-2 to again receive health benefits.
Commissioner Don Tilley, 6th District, who didn’t run for re-election on the board, said the board needed to approve the measures in order to be “compliant with federal law,” according to meeting minutes.
Commissioners Duranczyk, Ernie Krygier, Herek, Tilley and Michael Lutz approved the resolution. Commissioners Coonan and Begick rejected it.
In voting for the healthcare benefit, board members essentially consider their role as elected officials for the county a full-time job, said Amber Davis-Johnson, corporation counsel for Bay County.
“The difficulty are those on-call hours,” she said. “If you, for instance, have a county commissioner who works his 29 hours, but then goes out to dinner and talks with a constituent for an hour, he’s then technically considered working full-time.
“Our concern is that if we didn’t include them on the plan, we could get penalized as non-compliant (with the Affordable Care Act).”
Coonan, who voted against the board taking the healthcare benefit, takes issue with the claim that board members work full-time.
“It’s B.S.,” he said. “The county’s health benefits should go to our full-time people, but we’re not full-time. I work at my job (as a commissioner), but how can anyone possibly believe that this is considered a full-time job?”
Krygier, chairman of the county board, who runs an appliance repair business, said he considers his elected position a full-time job.
“I’m actively engaged in a lot of county business,” he said. “I’m fortunate because in my personal business, I have my younger son who does a lot of the day-to-day work, which allows me more freedom for work at the County Building.”
Krygier said he doesn’t take issue with the health insurance because he pays between $ 150-$ 170 out of his commissioner paycheck toward the benefit.
Affordable Care Act regulations haven’t stopped neighboring counties from finding workarounds with the system.
In April 2015, Saginaw County’s 11-member board agreed they would work no more than 29 hours per week. Tuscola County commissioners took a similar approach.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the city of Bay City is also considered a large employer, but its nine-member City Commission members are considered part-time employees, said City Manager Rick Finn.
“They are not full-time and that’s how it is recorded,” he said. “They’re not eligible for health insurance.”
At the county, a commissioner can take the healthcare benefit, which is valued at $ 11,324.76 per year, or choose not to take the health coverage, and get an $ 1,800 stipend instead, added to their annual salary. Members of the Bay County Road Commission are eligible for the same benefit, Davis-Johnson said.
A county commissioner makes $ 12,419 per year. If a member chairs the Ways and Means Committee, his or her salary increases to $ 13,219. The Board of Commissioners chairman earns $ 13,419. The vice chairman earns $ 13,219.
Of the seven sitting commissioners today, three take advantage of the healthcare benefit: Commissioners Duranczyk, Krygier and Lutz, according to documents obtained by The Bay City Times. The remaining members collect the $ 1,800 stipend. Coonan said he donates his healthcare stipend to the United Way of Bay County.
Tom Ryder, who was elected Tuesday and joins the commission after Jan. 1, said he doesn’t see his elected position as a full-time job and doesn’t plan to take healthcare benefits.
“I know they’re working on the budget right now and they might be coming up a little short,” he said. “Something has to happen and if we can help them out by not taking this benefit, that’s what we should do.”
Ryder added: “We are temporary, part-time employees. This isn’t a full-time job.”
Davis-Johnson, the county’s attorney, said the Board of Commissioners could pass a resolution that exempts them from the policy of receiving an $ 1,800 healthcare stipend.
“But right now, they follow the same general personnel policies of Bay County, which says if they don’t take the healthcare, they get $ 1,800,” she said.
If a commissioner manages to stay elected for at least 10 years, they then become vested in the county’s retirement program and are eligible to receive a pension.
If they were elected prior to Dec. 31, 2011, the multiplier for retirement benefits is 2.25 percent. Those elected after Jan. 1, 2012, get a multiplier of 1.6 percent.
The total amount paid is dependent upon years of service and the highest five years average salary.
So, if a commissioner served for 20 years (making them eligible for the 2.25 percent multiplier) and their highest five years of income averaged out to $ 12,000, their annual pension payment would be $ 5,400.
The following pensions were paid out to former commissioners in 2015: