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Vote on funding bill fails in Senate, virtually assuring government shutdown

For KAT employees, health insurance hike takes its bite

Darla Kimplin, a dispatcher for Kandiyohi Area Transit, is pictured Tuesday at her Willmar office. Employees with KAT are going to see a major bump in their health care insurance costs next year. The 33 percent increase comes on the heels of a 36 percent increase just one year ago. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- A 33 percent increase in health insurance costs will be passed onto Kandiyohi Area Transit employees, who have also been told not to expect a wage increase next year.

The rate increase comes on top of a 36 percent hike KAT experienced last year for its health insurance program.

"It's a very big jump and it's going to affect employees a lot," said Tiffany Collins, KAT transit director. "Insurance costs are definitely rising."

Besides the higher insurance fees, Collins said KAT employees will not likely receive a proposed 2 percent wage increase that would have gone into effect in 2010.

Because most public employees are not getting a wage increase, she said the KAT Joint Powers Board -- which is made up of Willmar city council members and Kandiyohi County board members -- is not expected to approve a pay raise.

On Tuesday, the KAT operations board voted to recommend that KAT increase its contribution to employee's health insurance coverage by $300 a year.

Having KAT kick in more for health insurance would ease the "hardship for employees," said Collins.

KAT has researched other insurance plans but they've even been more expensive, said Collins. The small size of KAT and the increased age of its employees are reasons for the rate increase. She said KAT has had low rates for many years and is now "catching up" with other public and private entities.

The Joint Powers Board is expected to take action on the revised health insurance plan at their meeting on Nov. 6.

In other action:

? The board briefly discussed the employment of a KAT driver charged with allegedly committing a sex act with a vulnerable adult male with a male he met while driving at KAT bus. Patrick Shawn Dokken, 35, faces a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge in Kandiyohi County District Court.

He has been suspended without pay since the charges were filed.

Collins said the board will need to address issues pertaining to accrued vacation and sick time once the case is resolved.

? The board adopted a new personnel policy that prohibits bus drivers from using cell phones for non-emergency uses while driving.

? A sharp drop-off in riders in July has been slowly increasing. KAT's new fixed route that is designed to provide service to Willmar's west-side residents who work in the industrial park has not been as popular as hoped. In the first few weeks of being on line, there have been 1-2 riders every hour. The goal is to have 5-6 riders each hour.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750