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ACCIDENTS INVOLVING FALLS VEHICLES STIR QUESTIONS 2 ON COUNCIL SEEK INFORMATION; PALESH SAYS INCIDENTS HAVE HELD STEADY 3 YEARS

Some City Council members think city vehicles have been involved in too many accidents lately.

But City Administrator Mark R. Palesh says there hasn't been an increase in the three years that the city has been keeping track of such things.

Palesh said there have been 90 to 95 accidents involving city vehicles each year for the past three years.

Palesh said better reporting and better enforcement as a result of the city's commitment to risk management may be leading to the perception that there are more accidents. He said the city hasn't compiled enough of a history to determine whether 90 to 95 accidents a year is a normal, high or low figure.

Barbara A. Geracitano and Anthony F. Quaranto are among the Council members who have raised questions during the past year or so about the number of accident claims they are asked to approve.

"Its been getting progressively worse. You can't pick up an agenda without four or five claims. In the past, even though we had a lot of claims, the majority of them were falls and broken glasses. Now, you can't go through one agenda without finding four or five different ones" involving city vehicles, said Quaranto, a second-term councilman.

Mrs. Geracitano said that at a recent Council meeting there were nine claims involving city vehicles.

"That was the largest number I've kept track of on one agenda," she said.

The two Council members said they have asked for information regarding the number of accidents involving city vehicles, how the accidents occurred and what kinds of training employees are given.

"If there is a problem and they do have training seminars I have to ask myself what kind of drivers are they hiring," Mrs. Geracitano said.

"I think it should be addressed. It's something we've all commented on at one time or another," she said.

Councilman Anthony J. Rendina, a property and casualty agent for more than 30 years, disagrees that the number of claims has risen significantly.

"We're more cognizant of those claims than we were previously because under the self-insurance system we now operate under, we now handle claims. . . . Normally the insurance company handled them. We would not even be aware of them.

"I'm not unduly worried. One of the things we're doing by self-insurance is reducing the taxpayers' burden," Rendina said.

The city began moving toward self-insurance about three years ago. Palesh said his goal is to have the city as self-insured as possible in two more years. As part of its plan to reduce risk and insurance costs, the city hired Celestine M. Chirumblo as risk manager 2 1/2 years ago and will hire a safety and health coordinator within the next month.

But, O'Laughlin said, the number of vehicular accidents wasn't the most compelling reason to hire the safety coordinator.

"It's just one of the items of a whole broad spectrum of a city policy on safety," he said. "We have no evidence that there's anything out of the ordinary. We're not aware of a history of recurring accidents. We don't think there's an extraordinary number considering how many vehicles are on the road. The idea is to keep up with them and keep them from becoming a problem."

Mrs. Chirumblo said the city has 271 vehicles on the road at present. Snowplows, garbage trucks and police cars are among the most driven. The police cars are on the road 24 hours a day, O'Laughlin said.

Palesh said city employees may be reporting more accidents now. Before, if an employee had a minor accident that didn't involve another vehicle, he may not have reported the damage. Now, with better enforcement, he said those minor fender-benders are being reported.

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