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Massena would see worker’s compensation costs increase under proposed county plan

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MASSENA - While no one knows exactly how much worker’s compensation insurance costs would increase for the town and village of Massena if the county legislature moves forward with a proposal to change its billing formula, Mayor James F. Hidy and Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said it’s not fair to expect Massena’s taxpayers to subsidize the rest of the county.

“I think Greg Paquin illustrated it best,” Mr. Hidy said, referring to a quote from Massena’s representative on the legislature.

Mr. Paquin said Friday, “Unless I see numbers that save the town and village of Massena, my vote will be ‘no’ permanently.”

Some members of the county legislature have proposed changing the formula from one that is now based 70 percent on assessment and 30 percent on experience to one based more on experience, a direction they have been headed since changing the formula three times in the 1990s. In 1993, the formula was an 85/15 split. It was then changed to an 80/20 split in 1995 and the current 70/30 ratio in 1996.

“It would cost us thousands of dollars,” Mr. Hidy said. “If this passes, we would obviously have a problem on our hands.”

Mr. Hidy said while Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, who represents the town of DeKalb, is saying the current formula is unfair to his municipality a change in the formula would be unfair to Massena and other larger municipalities.

“Fred Morrill says it’s blatantly unfair for his constituents. On the contrary, this would be unfair to us, and Massena would end up holding the bag for much of the county,” according to Massena’s mayor.

Mr. Hidy said the county tried to do the same thing last year when it was talking about raising its tipping fees.

“As it was with the trash removal tipping fees, we once again feel we are unfairly being targeted,” he said. “Now that we have that issue behind us, they are looking at worker’s comp.”

Mr. Hidy said he doesn’t know what a fair formula would be, but he knows that a fair formula isn’t one that would increase costs for the county’s largest communities.

“This is a change that would have gone unchallenged until Mayor (James) McFaddin of Norwood, Mayor (Steven) Yugartis of Potsdam and myself met with county officials to dispute the rising costs.

According to village treasurer Julie Sharlow, the village was billed $319,916.44 for worker’s compensation this year for its 137 employees. Ms. Sharlow said the village pays that bill each fall.

Mr. Hidy said that village employees include the Department of Public Works workers, police department, fire department and village employees who work at town hall.

Town Bookkeeper Nancy Fregoe said the town paid $252,663.85 for the same coverage this year. Mr. Gray said the town employs more than 450 employees, with roughly 400 working at Massena Memorial Hospital alone. The town also employs 19 people at the Massena Electric Department and has 43 other employees spread out throughout the museum, library, highway department, town hall and airport.

Mr. Gray said taxpayers in Massena are already subsidizing much for the county, and this is just another example of the county looking for ways to take more money from them.

“We pay the bulk of it already. How much more can we be expected to pay?” he asked.

Mr. Gray, like Mr. Hidy, said he disagrees greatly with Mr. Morrill’s comments.

“I think the exact opposite of Mr. Morrill. Massena has the highest assessment in the county and pays more county taxes than anyone,” he said. “One would think the fairest way would be to put the highest percentage of the formula on experience, based on a percentage of employees who have filed claims, not the number of employees.”

Mr. Gray said many of Massena’s more than 450 employees have never filed a claim and work in jobs where they would be unlikely to do so.

“Most of Massena’s employees perform professional, low-risk jobs at their desk, so while Mr. Morrill is concerned about other towns subsidizing it, I don’t see it that way. What I see is that the taxpayers of Massena send $4.5 million to Canton to subsidize the rest of the county.”

Mr. Gray said when he makes this statementhe is often reminded about the amount of services the county provides in Massena, but to that he has one simple answer.

“I’m routinely reminded that the county provides a lot of services to Massena, but we pay them $4.5 million,” he said. “They should be providing us services. How much more money do they want?”

The county legislature has authorized an expenditure of up to $10,000 to JTP Risk Calculating, East Syracuse to look at ways to alter the formula based on payroll, risk categories and experience.

Any changes to the formula would need to be voted on by the legislature by August for the change to be implemented in the next round of billing.

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