Consultants speak to retirees, commissioners as health care benefits remain in limbo in Genesee County

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FLINT (WJRT) - (08/15/19) - The Genesee County Board of Commissioners will move forward with a series of meetings with the goal of securing millions of dollars in funding for retiree health care benefits that are currently in jeopardy.

The so-called VEBA trust could run out in a matter of months unless commissioners are able to allocate $18 million in funding from the general fund to the trust.

"The fund will run dry approximately in December of this year, calendar year, which is in next year's budget year. Some time between December '19 and April 2020," Commissioner Martin Cousineau said.

Thursday commissioners held the second VEBA trust committee meeting where consultants and the county controller were invited to share their findings of retiree healthcare benefit plans and projections.

"It's an extremely difficult thing to understand and none of us are experts, so we have to bring in experts to explain things as to what is out there, what is available, but not only to us, but obviously to the retirees out there also," Cousineau said.

County Controller Nerahoo Hemraj provided a detailed overview of retiree health care that affects some 1,700 people. If commissioners are to pay for the health care benefits from the general fund, Hemraj says it could bankrupt the county.

"We're looking at by 2023, everything is gone from the general fund and this is where you to say Houston we have a problem," Hemraj said.

But commissioners and citizens left the meeting feeling like they were heading in the right direction.

"We are making progress," said UAW retiree Mark Corkins.

That was the general sentiment coming out of the work group meeting.

Mark Corkins is a UAW retiree, but he has organized a group of more than 350 Genesee County retirees online. They all want to make sure the county commissioners find a way to keep funding the VEBA trust.

"We've been to a lot of board meetings and had discussions with board members, but they've not really individually or as a group come out and supported the retirees or stated that they are. Today's effort shows that they are behind retirees, which is good," Corkins said.

Legal consultants were also brought in to examine the contracts and update the board and retirees on current Michigan law.

"Unless a collective bargaining agreement expressly provides that a benefit is vested for life, the benefit expires with the contract," said one legal consultant.

Cousineau explained how contract terms could play a pivotal role in the process.

"It depends on the language as to what they're entitled to, or I shouldn't even really say entitled to, but how they're protected in their retirement, and we have to be very cognizant of that fact, and that's an extremely complicated thing," Cousineau said.

With that being said, the board is looking at ways to keep the VEBA trust going through the general fund, and will continue those discussions at a meeting next Wednesday (8/21) morning. Commissioner Cousineau stresses retirees should look over their contracts and attend that upcoming meeting.

To learn more about the information presented at Thursday's meeting, visit this website.

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