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LEGISLATOR POSTPONES BID TO DROP COSMETIC SURGERY COVERAGE FOR WORKERS

LOCKPORT -- County Legislator Richard E. Updegrove has dropped, at least for now, a resolution that would have guaranteed funding for five cultural programs through 2010 if the county's two largest unions voluntarily drop county-paid coverage for elective cosmetic surgery. That has cost the county about $1 million a year in recent years.

But after the June 29 Administration Committee meeting, Updegrove said he intends to bring up the issue again.

The Civil Service Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have said they are willing to give up the cosmetic surgery benefit in negotiations, but they are working under terms of expired contracts that include the coverage because talks on new deals are practically at a standstill.

Cosmetic surgery coverage is available only to union members who elect to join the county's self-insured health plan. The county also offers health maintenance organizations that don't pay for it.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the county never specifically negotiated cosmetic surgery into its contracts. He said that when the county created its self-insured health plan in the early 1990s, it had to duplicate what was in its BlueCross BlueShield plan at the time. That included coverage for elective cosmetic surgery.

Updegrove said the county pays not only for the union employees' surgical self-improvement, but their spouses' and children's as well. He said surgery on spouses and children accounted for about 15 percent of the cost last year. He called that "obscene."

Updegrove wanted to guarantee funding at 10 percent above current levels for the NIOGA Library System, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Niagara County Council on Aging, Olcott Beach lifeguards and Kids Voting of Western New York.

Those items total $680,770 this year; Updegrove's proposal would have increased that to $748,847 next year and freeze that figure through 2010.

"I wanted to give (the unions) something that would give them an incentive to eliminate that benefit," Updegrove said.

"The unions are not going to give this up because the libraries are going to get more," said Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, who said he couldn't vote for Updegrove's proposal in its current form.

"It's negotiable, so our hands are tied," said Legislator William M. Davignon, D-North Tonawanda. "We've negotiated it out of four (union) contracts already."

Legislator Glenn S. Aronow, R-Lockport, said, "This is a test, and the unions need to decide if they're going to put breast implants ahead of the libraries."

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he would have to research whether the current Legislature could dictate spending on such items as far as six years in advance.

The Legislature eliminated most outside agencies from its budget in the past two years and reduced its spending on the rest.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com