By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- Mayor Tim Currier said after speaking with the county attorney, he agrees that their new workers compensation formula is fair but says it was not fairly written or implemented.
“I don’t disagree with the fairness of the program. I disagree with the way they did it, in near secrecy and threw it at us, and their unwillingness to let us phase in over time,” Currier told the village board on Tuesday. “I’ll be working to urge them to be fair across the board and not pick and choose when it benefits their municipality or their county.”
He said that includes urging the county to also adjust their sales tax distribution to give a fairer share to Massena, which local lawmakers have said does not receive benefits in proportion to what they generate.
St. Lawrence County serves as the administrator for workers for the self-funded workers’ compensation insurance for the vast majority of municipalities in the area. For the past few years the county has been working to establish a new algorithm for contributing communities based on actual claims and risk factors.
For decades communities paid 90 percent of their shares based on property value and 10 percent based on risk. Over the past three years the county has been adjusting the calculation to focus more on risk and actual claims. The county modified the formula to 70/30 then to 60/40. Currently the formula is 50 percent risk and 50 percent property value, but in July, legislators agreed to move to a 100 percent risk based-contribution.
The new formula has the village of Massena paying $324,000 annually and the town paying $951,900. The town’s payment could drop if Massena Memorial Hospital privatizes and exits the county system.
Data from St. Lawrence County shows MMH — which is in the process of privatizing and will soon no longer be operated by the town — is responsible for nearly 97 percent of the town’s open claims.
This year, the town has had 16 workers’ compensation claims, 15 of which are from MMH. The county is projecting that number to reach 29 total claims by the end of the year, with 27 of them coming from the hospital.
According to data provided by the county, which serves as administrator for the program, new claims from the hospital have grown from 70 percent of the town’s total share in 2014 to 93 percent in 2017, while the other town entities covered under the program have reduced their share from 30 percent down to about 7 percent.
Currently, MMH has 32 open claims totaling $5,202,581.42. The total number of open claims for the entire town is 33, with costs estimated at $5,452,282.99. The other Massena departments covered under the compensation insurance program are the electric department, highway department and library.
Of the hospital’s 15 open claims, MMH CEO Robert Wolleben at the July Board of Managers meeting said five or six of them are what he called “medical only,” meaning they were treated and able to return to work.