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Town of Niagara eyes health care savings

Fri, May 27th 2016 10:10 am

Town mulls joining other municipalities in health insurance consortium

By Lauren Zaepfel

Tribune Editor

The Town of Niagara Board agreed Tuesday to consider joining a Greater Niagara Orleans County Municipal health insurance consortium, which has a goal to reduce overall health care costs by having the two counties' 26 municipalities purchase joint insurance.

An initial comprehensive review completed by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. showed that, overall, each municipality would save on operating costs. Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso said the town could save approximately $81,000 annually, equal to 15 percent.

However, Virtuoso said, "It's just a study. It's not a fact. And we also have union contracts that we have to negotiate because that's a health insurance, that's a benefit for the union."

"At this point in time, what we are doing is just looking into the possibility," Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee S. Wallace said during Tuesday's Town Board meeting.

The 12 towns in Niagara County, including the Town of Niagara, would contribute $417 for the cost of a grant writer to apply for a $250,000 New York state grant to pursue the project.

The Town of Somerset would be the lead agent in applying for the grant. If awarded, 10 percent of the grant's total would need to be matched. Therefore, each town would contribute funds to meet a total of $25,000 in order to reimburse Somerset, as it will be responsible for paying back the state.

The resolution states the Town of Niagara would provide Somerset a total of $737 over a two-year period in quarterly reimbursements of $184.25 to pay off its share of the matched grant funds needed.

"Everything is in the preliminary stages," Virtuoso said. "It's just that we need to move forward with knowing how many participants (there will be)."

She added, if some of the municipalities decide not to join, the savings would change for those still interested. The consortium committee, made up of one representative from each municipality, will meet Tuesday to determine who will vote for or against joining the plan.

In other news

•The board has started to discuss whether the town should update its property assessments.

The town's last property reassessment was implemented in 1991. "It's been 25 years," Wallace said Tuesday. He added, "There are people who are paying too much and people who are aren't paying enough."

The Town Board plans to set a timeline for possible reassessment in June or July.

•The board approved to pay Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper $43,000 for consulting work pertaining to the proposed habitat restoration and flood management plan for the wetland area along Cayuga Creek, currently referred to as the Weber Property.

"We're trying to rectify the flooding issues," Wallace said.

He added, "We're hoping once we get through this property we'll be able to turn this into a naturalized park, which will help with the flooding over there."

Funding for the project was authorized through the New York State Greenway Commission and the Niagara Power Coalition.

•The playground for the town's Belden Center park has been installed and the town's other four satellite parks are being constructed.

"We're working on all of them at the same time," Wallace said. "Belden Center is done completely."

Councilman Samuel S. Gatto said he stopped by the Belden Center park this week and said, "There was a ton of kids there. I am glad to see that they're being used."

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