Salisbury. County officials say they will begin exploring ways to expand medical benefits for the families of employees who die in the line of duty.

On June 13, just two days after Wicomico County Deputy Sheriff Glenn Hilliard was killed in the line of duty, the Wicomico County Council held a special meeting to discuss medical benefits for death in the line of duty.

“We are looking into contract and cost analysis to see what we can do about the health benefits of the survivors and families of these law enforcement officers, what that definition might be, and what we can do in our current healthcare contract to take care about the survivors of the fall of a law enforcement officer,” said Acting County Executive John Psota.

Last week, officials told the county that they want to amend Wicomico’s staff handbook to expand medical benefits for the families of county employees who die in the line of duty. Director of Human Resources Jacqueline Curry noted that while the guidance allows the families of County employees who are eligible to continue receiving benefits, it does not address employees who are not eligible for a pension.

“Therefore, if a deceased employee was ineligible for a pension and continued benefits, the spouse and/or qualifying dependents may retain their health insurance in accordance with relevant and applicable state and federal laws, which means COBRA coverage,” she explained. “If any of you are familiar with COBRA coverage, it’s very expensive.”

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Curry said the personnel manual amendment would help those family members.

“It will be the post-tax inactive group that we already have that will offer this option to eligible surviving spouses and dependents of employees who are not eligible for a pension,” she said.

Major Tod Richardson of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office this week urged council members to make the necessary changes before July 31, when Hilliard’s medical benefits expire.

“Currently, the family is insured until July 31 in accordance with the current situation,” he said.

Board member Joe Holloway asked if the proposed changes would apply to family members of all district employees.

“If a county road worker had died on our road, or a few years ago someone had died working in a landfill—he had been electrocuted while working—would they have dealt with it?” he asked.

Curry said officials will look into this when they study the proposed changes to the leadership.

“That’s what we’re looking at, what the lighting will turn on.” she answered.

Council President John Cannon wondered if the proposed changes could be made before July 31, as a legislative bill to amend the personnel manual would require two meetings and a public hearing.

“Does this fall under emergency legislation?” he asked. “The key is how quickly can we act if we choose to do so?”

District Attorney Paul Wilber said the bill likely would not meet the definition of emergency legislation.

“I think it would be difficult to categorize this as an emergency,” he said.

After further discussion, the board agreed to have staff conduct a cost analysis and develop proposed manual changes.

Last week, the council also voted to transfer $454,101 in contingencies to the county’s death benefit account to fully fund the $500,000 benefit for Hilliard’s family.

“Under our agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, we have an exemption under Article 10, Section C, to pay the recipient $500,000,” said Deputy CFO Charles Schmechel. “The Death Benefit currently only has a balance of $45,000, so we ask that the remainder of the funds be transferred to contingencies.”

Without further discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve the transfer.

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