Niagara County may join countywide benefit study - The Buffalo News

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Niagara County may join countywide benefit study

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday to take part in a feasibility study of creating a single countywide health plan for all 21 local governments in the county.

A special meeting of the Legislature was announced Friday, to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse, 175 Hawley St.

The topic is the proposed health consortium, an idea first brought forward by the Niagara County Supervisors Association, whose 12 members will vote this weekend by email on which of three interested consulting firms they want to handle the study.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert, a primary promoter of the idea, said he expects all or nearly all of the 12 towns, five villages and three cities to join in. But the county government is the biggest catch for the program, because it has almost as many employees as all the municipalities combined.

That’s important, because state law says no health consortium may be formed unless at least 2,000 employees are covered. Without the county, that number may not be reachable, Engert said at a June 10 meeting of municipalities in Lockport which drew officials from almost all of the localities.

The goal is to see if offering health insurance jointly could save money, but Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said the creation of a consortium could be crucial for property taxpayers in another way.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is requiring some shared services projects for local governments if their property tax increases are to be rebated to residents by the state in 2015. Syracuse said a health consortium could comply with the Cuomo requirement.

“I think this has some potential. It could be the period at the end of the sentence for us,” Syracuse said.

If Tuesday’s resolution passes the Legislature, Syracuse said the county would not be committing to join a consortium. It would be agreeing only to provide the data the consultant would need to perform the study.

The county also would be agreeing to appoint someone to serve on an ad hoc committee overseeing the study. Engert said if the study is positive and enough municipalities want to enter the consortium, the ad hoc committee could be converted into the consortium’s board of directors.

Engert said the supervisors want commitments from as many governments as possible in time for the ad hoc committee to hold its first meeting in the second or third week of July, and they have set a target of completing the feasibility study in four months.

The Supervisors Association sent out a request for proposals to carry out the study. The contenders are Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a firm that gave a presentation at the June 10 meeting and will present again at Tuesday’s Legislature session; The Walsh Group; and Premier Consulting Associates.

Engert said one of the bidders offered a fixed price, another said it would negotiate a price after it is hired, and the third offered multiple pricing options.

“The pricing is the least of our concerns. We’re evaluating their experience in building a consortium from the ground up, in managing a consortium,” Eggert said email:

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