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Town of Niagara looks to join health care consortium

TOWN OF NIAGARA – The Town Board agreed Tuesday to explore joining a health care consortium that could save about $81,000 a year.

Often referred to as self-insurance, the plan would join together 26 municipalities as the Greater Niagara Orleans County Municipal Health Insurance Consortium to reduce overall health care costs of municipal employees by purchasing insurance jointly. The larger the risk pool, the better the premium rate, officials said.

The resolution would allow the town to contribute $417 toward the cost of a grant writer to apply for a $250,000 state grant to fund the project. If awarded, the grant would have to be matched by 10 percent of the total. The Town of Somerset, as lead agent, would be reimbursed by the other participating municipalities.

“At this point, we’re just looking into it,” Supervisor Lee S. Wallace said.

At a previous work session, Town Clerk Sylvia C. Virtuoso said the goal is to get all 2,800 municipal employees in Niagara County under one plan. If the plan includes the City of Niagara Falls, which will send representatives to the committee meeting, the membership would go to 3,000.

All participants would save in insurance premium costs, with the town reducing its expenses by 15 percent, she said. “The whole county would benefit from these shared services,” she told the board.

If the grant is won and the project takes off, the plan would still need the cooperation of the various bargaining units for employees in the municipalities.

“It’s a long way from becoming reality,” Wallace said at the work session. “We would still have to negotiate” with the unions.

“You need to keep your mind open to the feasibility,” Virtuoso said, referring to the board.

If the grant is awarded, the town would pay Somerset a total of $737 over a two-year period in quarterly reimbursements as its share of the 10 percent local contribution to the program, according to the resolution.

In another action, the board approved a $43,000 payment to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper for consulting work on the first phase of the habitat-restoration and flood-management plan for an area known as the Weber Property near Cayuga Creek. The organization is seeking to relieve the flood-prone area by creating a parkland and flood-control system.