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The City Council on Monday will consider requests to hire consultants to study the city's options for worker's compensation insurance and to establish the cost of potential downtown capital projects.

Mayor Irene J. Elia's administration is asking for approval to hire Municipal Insurance Consultants for $3,500 to review the city's options on worker's compensation. Like many communities in the county, the city is considering leaving the Niagara County Worker's Compensation Plan because of skyrocketing costs.

If the city leaves the county program, its options include a stand-alone self-insurance plan, buying an insurance policy or joining another consortium, possibly of other municipalities that are leaving the county, according to City Administrator Albert T. Joseph.

"We've got to quantify this and figure out what will work the best for the city," he said.

The mutual worker's compensation self-insurance pool covers the county, six school districts and every municipality except North Tonawanda and the Town of Lockport. Members are rebelling against fees, which are due Thursday, that in many cases were twice as high as last year's. The county has called a meeting of municipalities for 7 p.m. Wednesday to explain the county's position.

Councilman John G. Accardo said opting out of the county plan probably would eventually produce savings for the city. But there would be an initial cost to buy out of the county plan. The county can't give municipalities their withdrawal fees because it does not know how a lawsuit against North Tonawanda will end, Legislator Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, said last week.

The county first sued North Tonawanda for a $2.2 million fee to leave the pool, but the county has revised the city's exit fee to $3.4 million. North Tonawanda said it owes only $1.2 million. The exit fees are based on projections of what it will cost to pay off all of a member's outstanding claims.

"The problem with the county plan is they've failed to raise the premiums over the years to pay for settlements of lawsuits. In the last couple of years, they've raised them substantially because they're trying to get it all back at one time," Accardo said.

Accardo, who is an insurance agent, said hiring a consultant is probably a good move.

"You have to have somebody who's knowledgeable enough about the worker's comp market (and) who's always shopping around. That's what we do for our customers," he said.

The administration also wants to hire engineering consultants Olson & Terzian to estimate the cost of downtown capital projects in order to apply for state and federal aid. The fee is not to exceed $9,600. The firm has previously done cost analyses for repairs to the parking ramps, the Convention & Civic Center and Lackey Plaza.

The money would be taken out of the community development budget.

The Council also will consider a resolution by Chairman Anthony F. Quaranto supporting Gov. George E. Pataki's creation of a state corporation with $5.1 million to help develop downtown and asking that state officials meet with the Council to review the plan.

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