Tooele County, employees reach agreement on retirement benefits

Posted at 9:41 PM, May 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-15 11:40:23-04

TOOELE, Utah - Two hundred people attended a Tooele County Commissioner's meeting on Tuesday after the county announced it was considering cutting health retirement benefits.

The county has been cutting costs, including eliminating departments and canceling events, as they try to make up a $4 million deficit. One of their most recent budget measures was to eliminate retirement benefits for county employees.

In a meeting on Tuesday, a compromise between the county and its employees was reached.

County employees who retire after July 1 and have worked less than 10 years with the county will not receive health retirement benefits. Those who have worked more than 10 years will receive $500 for every year worked. Current retirees will see no change.

Residents at the meeting say they think the compromise was fair.

"I was very hopeful they would make a decision like this and I think yes, I tip my hat to the county commissioners in giving these guys what they deserve," said Carole Bush, a Tooele County resident.

The county has battled budget problems for more than a year, partly a result of a lagging economy and county facilities either draining funds or not making the profits expected.

Around 100 county employees have been laid off or had their work modified in some way. Four departments were completely wiped out and the county's budget has been cut by 25 percent.

A multi-year financial recovery plan was unveiled at Tuesday night's meeting. Elected officials will now pay the same amount of money for health care as employees, something residents had complained about.

"We are choosing to abolish that and put everyone equitable and put everyone at the same expense. That's what this motion is about," said Tooele Co. Commissioner Shawn Milne.

More cost-cutting measures are possible, including layoffs, service cutbacks and potentially an 82 percent property tax increase. The increase is not definite, but it could happen this summer.

"I think property taxes around here haven't been raised for a long time," said retired Sheriff's Deputy Lynn Bush. "I don't especially like it, but prices go up, taxes go up."

The property tax increase is just a proposal right now. A vote on the measure is expected in August and, if passed, the increase could take effect in December.

Additionally, county sports facilities that were closed will now be leased to private companies who will maintain them and give the county more revenue.