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Council OKs new plan for workers' comp

The Niagara Falls City Council on Monday evening approved a new plan for workers' compensation coverage but unanimously rejected Mayor Vince Anello's request to hire a consultant to help the city choose a new telephone system.

City Risk Manager Renae Kimble told the Council that the city's compensation costs for September 2004 through August 2005 were budgeted at $3.3 million but cost $2.6 million.

She gave much of the credit for the savings to a third-party administrator the city hired last year, the Public Employer Risk Management Association.

The association, which handles risk management for municipalities in New York State, offered to move the city from its current fully self-insured plan to a high-deductible plan for September 2005 through September 2006.

The Council approved the switch, and the city will now pay up to $450,000 for a single claim, while Public Employer Risk Management Association will cover the remainder.

Councilwoman Candra Thomason, the only dissenting vote, said she did not get all of her questions answered during the Council's work session earlier Monday. She wanted to know how much the city would pay the association for administrative costs this year.

The city paid about $450,000 for those costs last year.

But no other Council members had any questions, and Kimble told the Council that the association helped close 253 old claims in the last year.

In another matter, the Council opposed hiring a new consultant to handle the bid process to replace the current 17-year-old telephone system in city buildings.

Last May, the Council stalled approval on a $300,000 contract with a Buffalo firm to replace the outdated system with a voice over Internet protocol system.

The Council wanted more questions answered when three companies that were not awarded the contract, including the lowest bidder, complained about how the process was handled.

Anello asked the Council on Monday to approve a $10,000 contract with HPA Consulting Group of Rochester to review the current system, prepare specifications for new bids and make recommendations to the Council and the Anello administration once offers are received.

Councilman Lewis Rotella said the timing of the issue was bad because of the city's financial situation, and Councilman Glenn Choolokian recommended that the city rebid with tightened specifications.

The Council also tabled Anello's appointment of Muriel S. White to the Niagara Falls Library board of trustees.

White was a former longtime secretary to the Council, and Choolokian said he moved to table the appointment so he can research whether she would be considered a political appointee.

Anello said he did not appoint Morton H. Abramowitz -- who was recently taken off the five-member board because of a recent court ruling that his appointment was illegal -- because he would like to have Abramowitz serve the city in other ways.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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