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Workers compensation apportionment draws questions in St. Lawrence County

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CANTON — The apportionment of workers’ compensation costs to St. Lawrence County municipalities has some legislators questioning the methodology.

The self-insurance plan is set up so that towns, villages and the city of Ogdensburg pay their annual share based on 70 percent property assessment and 30 percent experience over the last three years.

“Why is assessment the major driver?” Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, asked at a recent meeting. “I don’t see why assessment has anything to do with it at all.”

The answer is not clear but the question is one that comes up routinely, usually when legislators approve annual apportionment tallies.

Assessment became linked to workers’ compensation when enabling state legislation was passed in the 1950s, County Attorney Michael C. Crowe said. Counties have the option of including experience in the formula.

In 1990, legislators adopted a 90/10 percent assessment/experience ratio. In 1994, they tweaked the formula to 85/15 percent assessment/experience. In the late 1990s, the formula was changed to its present structure.

Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, served on a committee several years ago that looked at different ways of setting up the formula but settled on keeping the 70/30 split.

“It seemed to be the fairest for everybody. It spreads it out equally for everybody in the county,” he said. “I’m fine with it the way it is.”

Some legislators, however, think another review is in order.

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said the 70/30 ratio does not make sense to him.

The town of Clifton, for example, is slated to pay $60,308.41 in 2013. Its assessed value is $203,137,690. Hopkinton, with an assessed valuation of $103,053,142, has a similar experience ranking to Clifton’s, but it will pay $32,937.94.

Summer homes at Cranberry Lake, which elevates the town of Clifton’s overall assessments, should have nothing to do with workers’ compensation, Mr. Morrill said.

“I think it’s wrong,” he said.

The structure should be set up more as it is in business, where the rate is based on the number of employees, job types and experience, he said.

“That’s the way it’s done everywhere else in the world,” Mr. Morrill said.

The county has reviewed the formula every three years, last approving it last year. In any case, Mr. Morrill said he wants to do more research before suggesting a change.

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