The motion, made by Commissioner Dennis DeWitt and seconded by Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez, stated that the reduction in hours would begin immediately but that county department heads will have until midnight on Sept. 30 to implement the new rule.
In a special meeting held just before lunch, all four commissioners and County Judge David Silva sat down to discuss options to deal with the impact the Affordable Care Act would have on part-time county employees.
The law, better known as Obamacare, requires employers with 50 or more persons on their payrolls to provide health care insurance for anyone who works more than 30 hours a week.
Silva has said the cost of providing every county employee with health insurance and other benefits would be unaffordable.
“The Affordable Care Act is what’s pushing this,” the judge said. “It’s untenable for us.”
Silva recommended earlier that the county limit part-time employees to 24 hours a week to give the county a safety cushion.
The county, and other employers, will be forced to pay the federal government significant fines and fees in the event a part-time worker actually is on the job more than 30 hours in a week and is not provided with employer paid health insurance.
The commissioners heard from several of the county departments which employ the largest number of part-time workers.
Tristen Martinez spoke for the Bee County Sheriff’s Office; Anna Simo was there for the Bee Community Action Agency; Mirella Escamilla-Davis spoke for the Bee County Clerk’s Office.
Martinez said part-time jailers at the Bee County Jail actually average about 51 hours a week. And full-time employees in the communications department work 12-hour days.
Davis told commissioners that she favored giving department heads until the end of September, and the 2012-13 fiscal year, to find additional part-time workers who would be needed.
“It’s going to affect our operation,” Simo told the commissioners. She said the BCAA’s transportation department has 16 part-time drivers. Complying with the county’s new policy will require the agency to hire more part-time drivers.
DeWitt told commissioners that a number of things could push a part-timer’s hours beyond the 30-hour threshold, including vacation and training time.
Silva warned the court that whatever happens to push the number of hours beyond the limit, doing so could cost the county a lot of money.
“This thing, I don’t know where it’s going to take us,” Silva said.
After Commissioner Ken Haggard recommended that the county require implementation of the part-time rule by Oct. 1 and DeWitt made the motion, department heads recommended that the motion be amended.
If the implementation is not completed by Oct. 1 and the start of the county’s next fiscal year, that could impact the county.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar asked if the county would be included in the Obama administration’s ruling that the employer mandate be delayed until 2015.
County Auditor Blandina Costley reminded the commissioners that reporting and fee requirements for employers would not be delayed.
She then agreed with a recommendation that the reduced hours be in effect by midnight on Sept. 30.
DeWitt amended his motion to comply with that recommendation, and the commissioners passed it quickly.
Deputy Lt. Ronnie Jones of the BCSO reminded the commissioners that the delay would help the sheriff’s department to comply with it.
“We will have to double the number of part-timers we have,” Jones said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.