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St. Lawrence County legislators reset workers’ compensation formula

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators are likely changing the workers’ compensation formula to one in which the county pays the costs of volunteer and paid firefighters and rescue squad members.

The formula change also delineates cost based on payroll, class of risk and experience, along with assessed value. It narrowly passed a legislative committee by a vote of 8-7. The full board will vote on the formula, typically set for three years, at a special meeting Monday.

The current formula for 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 past three years.

The plan chosen by legislators will reduce the ratio assigned to property assessment from 70 percent in 2015 to 60 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2017.

The shift will put plan participants into a formula more akin to the way business treats workers’ compensation, Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton, said.

“The changes are an attempt to move in that direction,” he said.

Legislators debated whether keeping the cost of workers’ compensation for emergency responders with their home municipalities made sense given that towns and villages that do not have fire departments and rescue squads do not share in the cost unless it is part of their contracts.

The county should take over the cost because of mutual aid, in which one town’s fire department responds if another needs help, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said. If firefighters were injured in another town, it would be their home town that would bear the cost through workers’ compensation.

A county takeover of costs could lend more control, he said.

“This would create some motivation for safety and training,” he said.

However, county Emergency Services Coordinator Michael J. LeCuyer said the county has no jurisdiction over how fire departments and rescue squads conduct themselves, with the only control other than the departments themselves the municipalities which pay for their operations through contracts.

“The only way to manage them is with those purse strings,” he said. “That’s the only time I see action.”

Even though the change would mean the cost to the county would increase $186,572 in the first year, most municipalities, with the notable exception of the villages of Massena and Norwood, would still pay at least a little more than under the current formula.

The village of Massena would see a drop of nearly $200,000 and Norwood a decrease of $120,000 in the first year.

The change is too complicated to take place in a hurry, said David H. Fenton, Potsdam village administrator.

Transferring the cost of Potsdam’s 55 emergency responders to the county would result in a difference of only $1,800 in the village’s cost, he said.

“There’s still a problem with this formula,” Mr. Fenton said. “There’s still something not right.”

Village attorney Michael C. Crowe, who is to check all the calculations with consultant JTP Risk Consulting, Syracuse, before the full board vote, had no explanation for Potsdam’s apportionment.

Some numbers appeared odd, but it could just be the operation of a complex formula with many different variables, he said.

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