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Health care for retirees tops issues for legislators

One of the more formidable problems facing the Cattaraugus County Legislature this year will be setting aside its annual contribution to meet the county's retiree medical insurance liability requirement.

In remarks made during the reorganizational meeting Wednesday, new chairwoman and Legislator Crystal J. Abers, R-South Dayton, said that, based on retiree projections, it will cost about $10.7 million a year to meet the estimated $118 million needed over the next 30 years.

"Now we have an annual cost projection, and we must come forward with a method to fund this cost," she said. "Cattaraugus County is a leader in tackling this issue."

She said planning by County Administrator Jack Searles and his staff, beginning two years ago, has put the county "ahead of the curve" in meeting these requirements. She also noted that this foresight has helped upgrade the county's bond rating.

After the meeting, Abers said county officials need to make adjustments to finance the cost. She also urged lawmakers to "look outside the box so we can provide services at a lower cost for the taxpayers" and to keep the county's reserve funds at their current level.

She and Vice Chairman Michael O'Brien, R-Portville, said shared services with other municipalities should be pursued.

Majority Leader Jon K. Baker, R-Olean, joined them in stating a need for cooperation, communication and preparing for change.

Democratic Minority Leader Linda L. Witte of Olean noted the importance of working with other entities to reduce duplication of services while continuing to work with the state to cut Medicaid costs.

Conservative Minority Leader Howard D. Zollinger of Randolph received a round of applause when he stood by his chair to say that he had not prepared a speech.

"[Legislator Charles Krause, C-Great Valley] is my assistant, and we will caucus right here in the chamber. The door is always open. If the Democrats or the Republicans want to talk, we will be available," Zollinger said. Krause, a veteran legislator, recently switched his party affiliation to Conservative from Republican.

Witte announced that Democrats had chosen Legislators Kenneth "Bucky" McClune, D-Salamanca, as minority whip and William E. Sprague, D-Yorkshire, as assistant minority leader.

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