I know that the budget is tight, even with a tax increase and the existing wheel tax. I also know that it is inherently unfair that part of the county workforce have health insurance and part do not. For those that have health insurance, I don't begrudge them their coverage. They deserve it and should have it. Let's be honest. Anyone who works for a living should be guaranteed medical coverage; this includes the people who work in the courthouse, especially the sheriff's department. They are county employees too and provide a valuable service to the county if people realize it or not. I've the same old complaint from too many people over the years - "It's a cushy job in the courthouse" or they're overpaid. My response has always been the same. Simply because it's in the courthouse does not make a "cushy" job and it does not mean that they make big money. Not just anybody could the job that these people do. I've heard the same complaint about teachers. If you think it's easy, try it sometime. You'll get an eye-opening experience.
The same goes double for the officers of the sheriff's department. It's not an exaggeration to say that they risk their lives on a daily basis. At any given time, a police officer can be shot on a routine traffic stop or anytime they knock on a door to answer a complaint call. They do so for low pay and little appreciation from the majority of the public. There are days that I can relate somewhat. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not easy being a newspaper editor. Some people expect the newspaper to be their weapon of choice in settling a grudge with their neighbor. It would amaze most readers to find out what some people have asked me publish on their behalf. I can't imagine everything a police officer has to listen to and what they're asked to do. I have some idea though, because I hear some of the complaints every day, along with the theory of the week involving some type of cover-up that doesn't exist and no offer of proof of any type to support the claims. But most officers put up with such nonsense because they love their job. They have to - otherwise they wouldn't do it.
How is that dedication of courthouse and sheriff's department employees rewarded? They are asked to work without what they a right to and what other county employees have had for years. Perhaps the most troubling side effect of this problem is that the county loses too many people it paid to train to other agencies because those agencies offer insurance and/or better benefits. How much money has been spent on an individual only to see them leave after their trained? I wonder how much of the money spent on training new officers could have gone to help pay for health insurance or some type of incentive to keep valuable employees. If you value an employee, you ought to treat them that way.
This is not a recent problem. The fault doesn't lie on the shoulders of the current county mayor, county commission, sheriff, or any other current county official. They do however, share in the blame and will until all county employees at least have the option of health insurance. The lack of insurance has been a problem haunting this county - and others in this region - for years, even decades.
Obviously, the answer is money. Saying the county can't afford it isn't an excuse. The county couldn't afford to build two new high schools and a new jail either, yet they did. Granted, the federal court ordered a new jail built, but that doesn't change the fact that it was (or is in the process of being) built.
It's time to stop asking how we can afford to do it. It's time to start asking how we can afford not to do it.
Richard Evans is Editor of the Claiborne Progress