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News Highlands Board considers benefit cuts for new hires

During a special called meeting Wednesday, April 20, Highlands’ Board of Commissioners considered ways to reduce the Town’s costs. Chief among the discussion was the benefit package for each of the Town’s employees. The Town covers 100 percent of the package per employee. Currently the average yearly salary among the Town of Highlands employees is $37,336. The average yearly cost of the benefit package for each employee is $17,349.40, bringing the average total cost per employee to $54,685.40.

Commissioners discussed the fact that a $30,619 salaried employee in Franklin and Macon County pays $4,739 and $3,106 out-of-pocket respectively for his or her benefit package. Moreover, new employees in Highlands receive dental and life insurance coverage from the first day of employment and health insurance after 30 days.

Commissioner John Dotson said, “Everywhere I have called requires a 30-, 60- or even a 90-day waiting period before any of this kicks in, and we basically start them from day one. Maybe we should look into this.”

Commissioners and department heads acknowledge that the paid benefit package is a great recruitment tool for town employees. But anticipating a reduction in revenue and continuously rising costs, Highlands is trying to be proactive rather than reactive.

“We don’t want to cut salaries or raise taxes, so the only place to cut would be the benefit package we offer new hires from here on out,” said Mayor David Wilkes. “We have to look at overall expenses. We can’t control health insurance costs, but we can control salaries and cost of living increases. We can control the benefit package. We need to be proactive and get ahead of the curve on this.”

Commissioner Gary Drake, who like Dotson, serves on the Finance Committee, said, “It’s a new world out there. New hires aren’t getting what previous employees get anywhere.”

Commissioners emphasized that they are not considering changing the way benefit packages are paid for by existing employees, only for those hired from here on out.

Wilkes said the discussion was conversation only. “Other towns are meeting right now looking at what positions and salaries they need to cut,” he said. “We aren’t doing that. We aren’t in trouble. We don’t need to do anything drastic... We are only trying to be proactive.”

Mirror Lake sewer project completed under budget

During the regularly scheduled meeting on April 20, Town Engineer Lamar Nix reported that the Mirror Lake sewer project was now complete at a cost of $2,358,367 against a budget of $2,790,412. Nix reported that the cost reduction of $431,775 was lowered by staff engineering/inspecting, lower rock quantities, quantity savings and low administrative costs. The town was successful in getting Netsi Place completed without having to use contingency funds. Of the 145 potential users, 141 have attached to the system.

Commissioners approved the 2011 Municipal Election Filing and Fee Notice. The filing period will begin on Monday, July 25, at 12 noon and end on Friday, Aug. 12, at 12 noon. The filing fee will be $5. Three commission seats will be up for election this year, those held by Commissioners John Dotson, Larry Rogers and Dennis DeWolf.

Commissioners also heard that the Town of Highlands had been awarded a $200,000 grant from the 2011 Main Street Solutions Fund for improvements to the Main Street Square. The Town will receive the monies, which will then be passed onto Lupoli to complete the improvements. The improvements will include sorely needed public restrooms.

At the request of Commissioner DeWolf, the Town delayed approval of Samuel Green III to the Appearance Commission, so that he (De- Wolf) could learn more about the applicant.


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