Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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June 21, 2014

County may join Niagara-wide health plan study

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Niagara County Legislature is expected to vote at a special meeting Tuesday to take part in a feasibility study of creating a health benefits consortium for employees of all 21 local governments in the county.

The meeting, announced Friday, is to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in legislative chambers at the county courthouse, 175 Hawley St.

If the resolution passes, the county will not be committed to joining a consortium, co-sponsoring Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said. The county would be agreeing only to provide data to a consultant doing a study and appoint someone to serve on an ad hoc committee overseeing the study. 

The goal is to see whether municipalities joining in an insurance pool could save money. Creation of a consortium could benefit property taxpayers in another way, too, Syracuse said. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is requiring local governments to get involved in shared services projects in order for their residents to receive property tax rebates from the state in 2015. A health consortium could meet that requirement.

"We could kill two birds with one stone," Syracuse said. "It could save some dollars and meet the shared services requirement."

A special meeting was called because the legislature's next scheduled business meeting isn't until Aug. 6, legislature Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, said.

Ross, who is co-sponsoring the resolution, said he's interested in looking into a countywide health consortium because the financial challenges of local government aren't going away anytime soon.

"Revenues aren't going to increase; I'm even worried about sales tax," Ross said. "Costs keep going up, though (and) you can only close down so many Mount Views. We have to help ourselves."

According to state law, a health consortium cannot be formed unless at least 2,000 employees are covered. In Niagara County, the other municipalities would need the county to participate because it has almost as many employees as the others combined, Ross said.

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