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WORKERS' INSURANCE PLAN ON AGENDA

A new law governing Niagara County's struggling workers' compensation insurance pool will be on the County Legislature agenda Aug. 17.

The plan, approved Tuesday by the Legislature's Administration Committee, calls for member municipalities to pay a higher price to withdraw, but it also caps the impact a single catastrophic incident would have on an individual member's future premiums. However, the caps are higher than they are now.

The Mutual Self-Insurance Pool covers the county, Niagara County Community College, and several towns, villages and school districts.

The county asserts that the cities of Lockport and Niagara Falls, the towns of Niagara, Royalton, Somerset and Wheatfield, and the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District still owe more than $4 million in withdrawal fees. The municipalities have contested that and threatened lawsuits, although none have been filed.

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he's been told Lockport will pay more than $200,000 next week toward almost $500,000 the county says it owes. However, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the payment won't happen that soon, saying the city must agree on a number and locate the money.

Joerg also said he is optimistic a settlement will be reached with Niagara Falls, which owes more than $2 million, the county claims.

Any money received will be plowed into the costs of the perennially strapped fund. The current law says there is supposed to be a reserve of $800,000, but County Treasurer David S. Broderick said the reserve is empty and the county is scrounging money to pay claims. The proposed new law says the pool's reserve is supposed to be $1 million.

The new law says the withdrawal fee, currently based on a fleeing member's previous three years of losses, would be calculated based on actuarial projections of future costs for claims still open at the time of the withdrawal.

Also, every member would have to pay at least $1,000 into the pool each year, even if its claim record otherwise would lead to a lesser charge.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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