More than 2,000 Knox County government employees and Sheriff's Office workers are set to receive a $700 bonus thanks to an unexpected savings in health care costs.
As the county continues to close its books on the recently wrapped up fiscal year, finance officials say they more than likely will have an extra $2.8 million to $3 million to place into the general fund, which covers much of the government's day-to-day operations.
The money comes from a slight uptick in property tax revenues and collections; a minor increase in hotel-motel tax revenues; health care savings; and the $2.1 million payment the county received from the Marble Alley development property sale - all which helped offset lower-than-anticipated sales tax revenues.
The county's administration plans to spend most of the surplus – or at least $2.3 million of it – on a number of items that officials say will benefit the health department, sheriff's office, circuit court clerk, law department and attorney general's office.
That surplus also will cover $1.75 million in bonuses for employees. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he authorized the one-time payments – or "health insurance rebates" – because workers have done a good job helping the county keep insurance costs down.
When he took office in September 2010, the mayor initially raised the rates. The county also required employees to take a health risk assessment or pay twice the premium charges. Still, this year officials thought they would need roughly $1.75 million for the insurance fund. They didn't, so they mayor opted to "reward" the workers, since they didn't get a raise this year.
"Over the past four years, we have asked our employees to pay more for health insurance, while also changing the level of benefits and emphasizing preventative health," Burchett said. "As a result of these and other efforts, last year's anticipated health insurance costs were significantly less than budgeted. It only seems right to offer this rebate as a way to say thank you to employees for helping us reign in ballooning health care expenses."
Here's a look at how the county plans to use the surplus:
- Circuit Court Clerk: $10,200 for expenses tied to the relocation of the child support office moving to Division Street
- Senior Picnic: $5,520
- Health Department: $70,000 for dental office upgrades ($50,000) and the indigent care program ($15,000)
- Equipment: $100,000 to expand the county's time car system.
- Furniture: $50,000 set aside to cover costs for newly elected officials, including five judges, a district attorney general and a criminal court clerk.
- Special events: $15,000
- Behavioral risk assessment: $21,600
- Ben Atchley Nursing Home: $80,000 for a new parking lot.
- Law Department: $18,000 for about 10 new computer tablets that will connect offsite attorney to the software located in the office.
- Attorney General: $92,300 to offset costs of moving attorneys from the county's retirement plan to the state's plan.
- Sheriff's Office: $88,000 for DNA testing equipment for cold cases ($15,000), additional building expenses for new narcotics office ($20,000) and Taser video cameras for patrol cars ($53,000).
- Beck Cultural Center: $50,000
- Rainy Day fund: $500,000 or the remaining amount of general fund surplus will go into this fund. It current has $51.4 million in it.
In addition to the general fund surplus, the county's engineering and public works fund also is expected to get an extra $1.2 million. The county will use the money to cover stormwater and road maintenance in foreclosed subdivisions ($735,800); for Environmental Protection Agency requirements ($27,000) and building a new cover for the salt shed on Baxter Street ($400,000).
Last year the county ended up with a $6.9 million surplus and designated about $3.6 million of for a number of big ticket items, including indigent care costs and new vehicles for the sheriff's office.