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TOWN OPTS OUT OF COUNTY SELF-INSURANCE FUND

The Wheatfield Town Board agreed Monday to join a number of other municipalities by bailing out of the Niagara County Mutual Self-Insurance Fund.

In a unanimous vote, the board ended months of debate and negotiations by authorizing the final premium payment for 2001 and notification to withdraw from the workers' compensation consortium.

Monthly payments have already been made on this year's $98,555 premium and the town is expected to receive a credit of about $6,000, according to the discussion. More significant is the amount of the buyout, which is expected to cost the town nearly $180,000.

Supervisor Timothy E. Demler, who has pushed for another method of compensation insurance coverage, said the town's premiums have continued to go up every year since it joined the plan in 1995, when the first annual payment was $17,000. Although next year's premium has been projected at anywhere from $45,000 to $75,000, Demler said he wasn't convinced by the price cut.

"The premium has doubled every year. . . . Now they're cutting the premium," he said.

Councilman Larry Helwig said his projections showed the premiums hitting $170,000 a year by 2003.

Demler also noted the buyout price would "increase greatly" if the town were to remain with the plan another year to take advantage of the premium decrease.

Town Attorney Robert O'Toole said the town budget would be cushioned by the fact that the buyout expense can be bonded over a five-year period.

No estimates were given on insurance through private companies, but Demler said the town would bid out the contract.

Other municipalities, such as North Tonawanda and the Town of Niagara, also have bailed out of the county plan.

"Almost every municipality is jumping off," said Demler, who criticized how the plan is managed, noting that Wheatfield received "very little information or reports" while it was a member.

In another matter, the board authorized using about $215,000 in sales tax revenue to cover items that were omitted from the budget, according to Budget Director Winston Moeller. Some of the items include funding for maintenance and utilities at the new community center and funding for plumbing inspectors.

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