Zebulon commissioners have extra money to play with.
Zebulon town commissioners wrestled for some time last night with a new benefits package for employees.
Commissioners were deciding which companies would provide town employees (and elected leaders) with health insurance, vision insurance and dental insurance.
The issue of health insurance was particularly moot because the town recently entered into a new contract with United Health Care to provide employees with that coverage. But vision and dental insurance were more of an issue. Ultimately, Commissioner Don Bumgarner zigged when the staff was zagging and suggested the town keep its business with Ameritas, the company that had provided dental insurance for town employees for several years. Bumgarner's logical argument won the day with his fellow commissioners.
The most interesting discussion came when Finance Director Emily Lucas explained to commissioners how the town wants to ease the burden of higher insurance costs for employees. She proposed the establishment of a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, for every town employee. The town would put $240 per year into an account for each of the town's 62 employees. That wouldn't eliminate the cost increase for employees, but it would reimburse employees for a significant amount of the additional cost.
The town currently offers an FSA for employees, but Lucas said only about 4 or 5 employees take advantage of it. That's surprising because the FSA is a pre-tax deduction, which means the employee could spend the money but wouldn't have to pay taxes on it.
Bumgarner and fellow commissioner Dale Beck, to their credit, admitted up front they didn't understand the FSA concept, but they were willing to study the idea.
Until Public Works Director Chris Ray stood up.
He explained to commissioners that he is one of the four or five town employees that uses the FSA and he praised the benefit because he said it's money he would spend anyway and he gets a tax break to boot.
Ray's endorsement won over Beck and Bumgarner and commissioners ultimately OK'd the idea.
Employees will find it one of the best benefits they could hope for as town employees. If they will just use it.
As taxpayers, we all hope our local government workers are busy all the time. A recent review of the monthly departmental activity reports in Zebulon would suggest that we are certainly getting our money's worth from the public works department.
Here's a short list of some of the projects they worked on from the middle of June to the middle of July when the report was generated. The town's public works department:
•Sought bids for an improvement project at Five County Stadium. They met with potential contractors on July 22.
•Oversaw the beginning of work on a new sidewalk on West Barbee and North Wakefield Streets.
•Reviewed appraisals and surveys for the current town hall and police station which the town hopes to sell when they move into their new digs at Wakelon School.
•Continued work on the new town hall. Some of the projects they undertook in that effort included coordinating the lowering a gas main to make room for a new storm drainage system, installing fire hydrants, building new sidewalks and constructing a parking lot.
•met with architects and engineers to go over final plans for the renovation of the N.C. National Guard Armory, which will now be called the Zebulon Community Center. Work on that project has since begun.
•reviewed plans for the construction of restrooms and picnic shelters at Wakelon Elementary School.
Now, when you read this report, its easy to get the idea that staff members of the Public Works Department were actually doing all this work. The truth is, contractors do some of the work. But no matter how you slice it and dice it, this 10-person department is in high gear.