Sundquist, Rosas fight workers comp cost shift

OBSSERVER file photo Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist is pictured during a rally Friday at the city Municipal Building.

The mayors of Chautauqua County’s two cities aren’t happy with Chautauqua County’s change in how workers compensation costs are calculated.

Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas sent a letter to County Executive PJ Wendel and county legislators prior to last week’s Chautauqua County Legislature voting session stating their opposition to the plan. Their issues aren’t just the costs — an increase of $157,315 for Jamestown and $86,139 for Dunkirk — but the fact the county didn’t reach out to the cities to work with them during the process.

“It is obvious why this decision is being made for the positive effects it has on county balance sheets,” the mayors wrote. “However, neither city has been consulted and included in this process at any point, despite the large adverse impacts this will have to our respective city budgets; only receiving notice after the amendment was filed. Prior knowledge of this change would have allowed each of us to assess the options for our cities and work together with the county on an equitable solution. As the largest contributors and participants in the plan, the lack of any communication or consultation severely debilitates our relationship with the county.”

Workers’ compensation is a state-mandateded insurance program that provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries and illnesses.

Legislators last week approved changing the way the county’s self-insurance plan for workers’ compensation is billed. Forty percent of the plan’s costs used to be based on property valuation, which meant towns with fewer employees but bigger property bases paid more into the system. Starting in January, workers’ compensation costs will be based on the wages of employees instead — which hits the two cities and the town of Westfield harder because they have the most employees. Jamestown, in particular, takes a bigger hit because it has paid police and fire coverage while Dunkirk’s hit comes in large part from its police department.

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 two-year phase-in for the increased costs, but the measure was defeated. Legislators representing the two cities voted for the amendment, but the rest of the legislature voted against it. Only Bankoski, Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, and Billy Torres, D-Jamestown, voted against the change to the worker’s compensation plan.

“While the county overall sees a benefit, the burden of the plan now shifts heavily to the cities and its taxpayers,” Rosas and Sundquist wrote. “We want to be very clear; the changes in the plan have significant budget implications. Implications to our budgets will require us to either cut essential services in 2023 or a raise in taxes on our residents. This will simply shift the tax burden from the county onto our residents.”

Budget talks for the cities won’t begin until the fall. In the next few months, Sundquist and Rosas said they will evaluate their options — including possibly leaving the county’s workers’ compensation plan altogether.

“Currently, both cities are investigating the possibility and feasibility of withdrawing from the plan,” Rosas and Sundquist wrote in their letter. “Should we move forward, we will provide requisite notice. However, at this time we urge you to hold off on any decision and engage with Jamestown and Dunkirk before imposing this significant burden onto our residents.”


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