Weber Co. OKs 8-year phase out of cash perk for retiring elected officials

This article originally appeared in the Standard-Examiner. Read it in its entirety here

OGDEN — Weber County commissioners have dialed back a retirement perk that allows elected leaders to take a lump-sum cash payment in lieu of extended health benefits on leaving office.

Four officials have taken advantage of the benefit since an earlier slate of county commissioners enacted it in 2014, collecting $250,170.28 between them. Per the 3-0 action at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, new restrictions in tapping the benefit will apply to those currently holding elective office.

The provision doesn’t immediately go away, notably, but the ability to take a cash payment equivalent to five year’s worth of health benefits, as has been allowed, will be scaled back and eliminated by the end of 2026. Moreover, elected officials who take office Jan. 1, 2019, or thereafter won’t be able to tap the cash payment provision at all, though they’ll be able to access continued health care benefits on retiring, with certain conditions, until the 2026 phase out.

Weber County’s other elected officials include the county attorney, sheriff, clerk/auditor, county recorder/surveyor and county treasurer, among others.

Sarah Swan, human resources director for the county, launched the effort to tweak the cash payment provision after learning of it last June. That’s when commissioners approved a $64,494.60 payment to Kerry Gibson per the policy after he stepped down as county commissioner to take a deputy director post at the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The provision had applied to county elected leaders with at least four years of service — but not other county employees — letting them take up to five years of county-provided health coverage or the cash equivalent.

Meantime, the Alliance for a Better Utah, a Salt Lake City-based government watchdog group, called on Gibson to return the funds he received per the 2014 provision. “Most Weber County residents are likely unaware this loophole exists, but we have no doubt they would be strongly apposed to this policy,” a statement from the group read, in part.

Among others, the three commissioners who approved Tuesday’s change, Jenkins, James Ebert and Jim Harvey, could theoretically still tap into the cash-payout perk, depending on how long they remain in office and presuming they leave before it’s phased out in 2026. Ebert lost earlier this year in his re-election bid to his commission post and will be leaving office at the end of the current term. The three didn’t respond to queries after Tuesday’s meeting, though, about whether they’d seek the benefit if given the opportunity.

Swan emphasized in addressing the matter Tuesday that tapping the cash payout benefit is voluntary, not obligatory. “I do want to make that clear. Not everyone has to take the cash payout,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the Standard-Examiner. Read it in its entirety here

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