Even if Houston County commissioners didn't vote on every subject that came up on March 19, they talked about some important issues.

Referring to calls from residents on Houston County's declining fund balance in recent years; Commissioner Teresa Walter said that the amount is not mandated by the state.

"We do have 161 employees in this county, and insurance went up 20 percent, so that's part of our cost with them," she added.

"In 2011, there were no cost-of-living raises, and in 2012, the elected officials also didn't get another (cost-of-living increase), so that's part of why our budget has increased for salaries."

"Insurance is the big thing."

Finance director Carol Lapham said that the 2013 increase for health care insurance was 19 percent. Projections include an additional 20 percent in 2014, but that was just added as a worst-case scenario.

"We hope it's lower," she said.

Personnel director Tess Kruger stated that the county will get the actual 2014 health care cost at the end of August. "Last year, it was a 31 percent increase, moderated by the pool to 19 percent," she said.

Contacted after the meeting, Lapham clarified some numbers. The county budgeted $1.5 million towards health insurance premiums in 2013.

An additional $300,000 was earmarked to go into employee's health saving accounts (HSA) on a matching basis (62.5% in 2013 followed by 50% in 2014).

Primarily driven by the cost of benefits, the county is projecting a $362,000 increase in salary expenses for 2014.

Lapham also said that the state auditor recommends maintaining a fund balance sufficient to run the county for five months.

Commissioner Judy Storlie stated that "negative comments" in some local newspapers are unfairly critical.

"I feel real uncomfortable that our employees are made to feel that they're the reason our taxes have gone up," she said.

"Our employees do an excellent job, and I feel that they're watching the money really carefully."

Future highway shop considered

Commissioner Steve Schuldt reported attending a meeting on the future of the county highway shop.

The decision on whether to build a new facility or repair the old one has not been made.

Chairman Justin Zmyewski said that he also attended the building committee meeting.

He reported that the county is looking into the possibility of using state aid funds for the highway shop.

Between $600,000 and $650,000 has already been set aside towards the project, he added.

"I'm, not in favor of going to the taxpayers for a multimillion dollar complex," Zmyewski stated.

"We went over what they would like to have, and we'll kind of narrow it down from what they'd like to have to what's actually necessary."

Resident raises committee issues

During the public comment section of the meeting, Yucatan Township resident Amanda Griggs said, "The previous silica sand study committee has yet to resume (meeting). I also have concerns about the makeup of the previous committee.

"I felt that they really limited the scope of the study, and it was more of an ordinance rush. I feel that as a county, we owe it to the citizens to look a little bit deeper into the decisions that are being made.

"We have limited time again. We have a year, and we've already wasted about a month with no movement forward on this issue.

"I don't believe that we can count on the state to pass any legislation to set criteria (for silica sand mines). I feel that we must get a solid committee going that will protect the health and welfare of county citizens."