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The Common Council on Wednesday put off for a week its decision to withdraw from the Niagara County workers' compensation insurance pool.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said he wants an answer from an attorney for the state Workers' Compensation Board on whether the city can avoid a high withdrawal fee to the county if it buys commercial insurance.

The Council is expected to choose between a self-insurance program and a commercial policy at Wednesday's special session.

The county says the city must choose between paying about $1.8 million to cover outstanding claims if it leaves under terms of the original law governing the pool, or taking those claims, now worth $977,000, with it to its new plan.

Presentations by insurers last week left the Council with the impression that it could avoid the $1.8 million charge if it self-insures, but not if it buys a commercial policy with the state Insurance Fund as the carrier.

Ottaviano said state law is ambiguous on this point.

"Don't forget, when North Tonawanda pulled out, they ended up in litigation (with the county). I don't want to end up in that posture," Ottaviano said.

The city must notify the county of a pullout for 2002 by Oct. 1.

On another topic, the Council agreed to allow ambulance bills to be paid by credit card, with a 2.8 percent fee to be added to the bills.

The aldermen agreed to an 18-month test of the program with M&T Bank, which will install a credit card terminal at City Hall.

The city will have to pay 2.2 percent for all transactions made at the terminal. The bank will charge the city 2.65 percent for telephone or mailed credit card payments.

The Fire Department, which has a table of ambulance fees including $210 for basic life support, has estimated that allowing credit card payments will reduce the number of accounts sent to a collection agency by 18 percent.

That would bring in more than $8,000 in additional revenue without the city's having to pay a 30 percent commission to the collection agency, Security Credit Systems, according to estimates last month.

In another matter, the Council unanimously refused to forgo an estimated $2,000 in interest and penalties owed by William Scirto, owner of the Clinton Building at 1 Main St., on a tenant's unpaid water bill.

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