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Chautauqua County continues to move away from being self-insured and made a major leap toward that goal Wednesday night.

At the monthly County Legislature meeting, lawmakers unanimously approved a new contract with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Employees Agency that includes a raise for union members over the next four years.

CCSEA employees will receive no wage increase this year, a 3 percent increase in 2005 and 2006 and a 3.25 percent increase in 2007.

Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, added that the employees also will be picking up 7 percent of their insurance costs starting next year, going up to 15 percent in 2007.

The agreement also calls for the CCSEA members, who currently get their insurance through the county, to begin getting it from an outside agency. Ahlstrom said that will save the county almost $500,000.

There are more than 120 members of the CCSEA, and 87 of them receive insurance through the county. Because the group number is so small, Ahlstrom said the county had to move all county managers and legislators onto the Univera plan as well.

A minimum of 200 employees had to participate in the contract with Univera or it could not have been ratified. The CCSEA covers correction officers in the county. Ahlstrom hopes now that they will be able to negotiate new contracts with the rest of the county's unions, and wean them off of self-insurance as well.

In other matters, the Legislature approved a resolution asking the state to allow them to eliminate the county's portion of the clothing tax, reducing it to 4.25 percent.

Legislator Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, led the effort. Last year the state increased the overall sales tax by a quarter percent, and Chautauqua County has proposed increasing the county's portion by 1.25 percent in 2005 in order to pay for the state-mandated Medicaid program.

Kindberg feels the state owes the county the right to lower the tax rate on clothing. She was pleased with the legislature's support Wednesday night.

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