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Cities to pay more with revised workers comp

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Pictured are members of the Chautauqua County Legislature.

MAYVILLE — Officials in Jamestown, Dunkirk and Westfield are going to be looking for more money in their budgets to pay for a change in how Chautauqua County bills workers compensation.

During Wednesday night’s county Legislature meeting, lawmakers voted 15-3 to approve a local law amending the county’s self-insurance plan for workers compensation. Currently, 40% of the workers comp plan costs are based on property valuation. The new law amends that to be based on wages of employees. The county will continue to charge 60% based on the five years claims experience.

At the beginning of the meeting, Finance Director Kitty Crow noted that that the county is projecting a $700,000 for 2023 due to a downward trend of claims experience. She said this change was unrelated to the local law.

Using that projected savings, she handed out to the legislature a new spreadsheet to show the impact of the change for 2023. Her information shows that three municipalities — the cities of Dunkirk and Jamestown, and the village of Westfield — would all pay more while the remaining municipalities in the county would pay less.

The revised information shows Jamestown would pay an increase of $157,315; Dunkirk would pay an increase of $86,139; and Westfield would pay an increase of $7,766.

The biggest decrease was the town of Chautauqua, which would pay $112,158 less. The second biggest decrease was for Ellery, which would pay $46,873 less, followed by Ellicott, which would pay $39,724 less.

Legislator Bob Bankoski, D-Dunkirk, proposed a revised local law that would have implemented the change over time. “I understand that our workers compensation plan has been broken for a lot of years and we were doing it the wrong way,” he said. “I understand that and I agree that we need to fix it to make it fair and equitable to all our taxpayers of Chautauqua County. I just feel that with the amended (local law) it’s not going to be that drastic an effect on everyone and it phases it in over the course of two years.”

Legislator David Wilfong, R-Jamestown, agreed. “The proposed fee for the city of Jamestown is unrealistic for that municipality,” he said. “One hundred and fifty seven thousand dollars is a lot of money to come up with for a city that’s had financial issues in the past. Sometimes people in the city of Jamestown get overlooked, and by the way, people that live in the city of Jamestown also live in Chautauqua County and I don’t believe this body is doing us any favor if they don’t go ahead with this (revised) local law.”

But Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, said the time has come for the cities to pay their fair share. “Towns and villages have paid more than they should have — the cities less than they should have,” he said. “And that’s no one’s fault, that’s just the way the plan was set up. But with the amendment tonight we’re asked to extend this inequity. That’s not fair to the villages and towns that have been subsidizing the cities for years. The inequity needs to end and I believe it needs to end this evening.”

The only legislator who is not a city resident that voted in favor of Bankoski’s revised local law was Susan Parker, a Fredonia Democrat. “I believe part of the job of the Chautauqua County Legislature is to give consideration to the many municipalities that make up the county and that includes Jamestown, Dunkirk and Westfield who are being asked to pay more. … In doing this over a period of two years, we are allowing those municipalities of Westfield, of Jamestown and Dunkirk to make a jump the first year and then finish that,” she said.

Bankoski’s revised local law failed with only himself, Parker, Wilfong, Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown, Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown, and Billy Torres, D-Jamestown, voting in favor. Legislator Kevin Muldowney, R-Dunkirk, was absent. No other legislators represent one of the two cities.

After Bankoski’s revised local law failed, he asked the local law be tabled with the same vote total of 6 to 12.

Finally when the time came to enact the local law, Bankoski, Parker and Torres voted against it. Wilfong, Whitford and Rankin joined the majority.

Whitford said although he represents Jamestown, he wants to see this inequity corrected. “We need to keep in mind that workers comp has always been based on wages and experience. … The city of Jamestown and the city of Dunkirk have been recipients of that value to them and now they have to pay the amount that probably they should have been paying over the years,” he said.

The change does not go into effect until 2023. During the discussion, Niebel thanked Crow and Dennis Brooks, the county’s self insurance plan administrator, for “settling and cleaning up some of the past outstanding claims” which is why the workers compensation cost is expected to be reduced by $700,000.

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