Mandate raises Susquehanna’s insurance

Susquehanna borough resident Joe Canini was presented with an award of appreciation by Council President Roberta Reddon. Canini painted all of the fire hydrants – about 36 – in the town. The project took him about a month to complete. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Susquehanna borough resident Joe Canini was presented with an award of appreciation by Council President Roberta Reddon. Canini painted all of the fire hydrants – about 36 – in the town. The project took him about a month to complete. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

Susquehanna Depot’s insurance rates are feeling the hit of a 2011 change in state worker’s compensation law for firefighters.

Act 46 – or the “Cancer Presumptive Act” as it is known – provides worker’s compensation benefits to people in the fire service that develop cancer after being exposed to a Class 1 carcinogen. The law allows for claims to be made retroactively 600 weeks, which equals just over 11-1/2 years.

Insurance representative Jim Davis presented the information at the council’s Wednesday, June 19 meeting.

Davis said that many claims have been paid since the law went into effect, with a large percentage of those claims made postmortem and came from the paid fire service.

But now, he said, the number of claims made from the volunteer fire service is growing.
The change, according to Davis, has shifted the cost of cancer treatment from traditional health insurance coverage to worker’s compensation.

“That why a lot of carriers are scared of it,” he told council.

In the past, seven agencies wrote worker’s compensation policies for the fire serve, Davis said. Now, only one agency – other than the State Worker’s Insurance Fund (SWIF) – is providing quotes for the coverage.

And the cost of coverage is going up.

In 2012, Susquehanna’s insurance policies cost under $14,000.

Davis offered policy quotes at the meeting. The least costly option of continuing with the current insurer (EMC) and adding a SWIF policy for the volunteer firefighters’ worker’s compensation policy will bump the borough’s payout for insurance premiums to over $20,000.

The mandate, Davis said, really pushes the cost of the benefit down to local taxpayers.

He said the topic was widely discussed at the recent Pennsylvania State Association of Townships conference. Some municipalities, Davis said, were blindsided by the increases.

The cost of the policy will be shared with neighboring municipalities who are park of the fire service’s coverage area, but Susquehanna – which has the largest population – will hold the largest burden.

Council approved Davis’ recommendation to keep the current policy holder in place and add a SWIF policy for the worker’s compensation.

In other business, results from a recent energy audit of the borough building brought about “extensive and expensive” recommendations, including increasing the insulation. Projected cost is $15,000.

Council opted to put that decision on hold and plans to meet with both Tri-Boro and the Library to discuss the energy recommendations.

Bill Malos of Pennsylvania American Water Company provided council with an update on the water tower construction and was on-hand to address and concerns or questions.

Malos said he expected the water tower to be place into service in November.

Council President Roberta Reddon asked if the expected increase in water pressure have any effect on the lines or pipes.

Malos said the pressure would be pumped up slowly, but added there would be higher pressures – about 140 psi – “down by the river” where the water pressure is already high.

He also said that homeowners on “the hills” would see an improvement to their current low pressures.
Audience member Marla Tinklepaugh questioned if homeowners or the water company would be financially responsible if the increased pressure damaged household pipes.

“Some of these homes are old,” she said.

Malos said he would speak to PAWC’s distribution people about the concern and said pressure reducers for homeowners residing at the lower level of the town is “probably a good idea.”

In public comment, Tinklepaugh told council she had an unresolved problem regarding a wall that her neighbor had placed on the property line about two years ago.

She said that upon her inquiry, no record of a permit for the wall was found in the borough’s files. She also said she believed placing the retaining wall on the line would have required a variance.
The brick wall, she said, was erected in order to make a parking spot on the property.

Tinklepaugh indicated that a councilman had agreed to look into the matter but that she had received no answer from him as of the night of the meeting.

“That aside, there are rules and regulations,” she said. “They would have to get a variance from us.”
Reddon asked to allow council time to look into that but said Tinklepaugh could seek recourse through codes or the legal system.

Reddon also said the borough would ask the solicitor to look into the matter.