New state law cited as Homer City predicts hike in worker's comp costs
A recent change in state law is expected to trigger a substantial rate increase for worker's compensation insurance that Homer City Borough provides for the town's volunteer firefighters.
“We're anticipating the worker's compensation rate on fire departments to probably double,” borough manager Rob Nymick told borough council members Tuesday at their monthly meeting. At a minimum, he said, a 50 percent increase is expected when the insurance renews Jan. 1.
Homer City isn't the only town that will be hit with an increase. Nymick cited the cause as the Worker's Compensation Act of 2011, which now presumes that firefighters will face potential exposure to carcinogens in their line of work.
Nymick said other municipalities are responding by initiating a fire protection tax of at least one mill. A tax at that rate would generate an extra $9,000 for Homer City, Nymick indicated, but council members said they hope to avoid a tax increase for 2013.
“I'm totally against that. The town is already stretched,” councilman Joe Iezzi, who is a member of Homer City's volunteer fire department, said of a potential fire protection tax.
He expressed concern that such a tax would be misconstrued as generating funds for the fire department's use rather than helping cover the borough's insurance costs. That could negatively impact the department's annual drive for donations from the public, he said.
“The people are good to us with the fund drive,” Iezzi said. “Without the fund drive, we're going to struggle.”
“If we don't do it this year, it's going to be hard to establish it next year,” Nymick said of the tax. On the other hand, he noted borough officials would be open for criticism if they were to initiate the extra tax and then discovered that the worker's compensation increase was not as severe as predicted.
“It's very difficult to put the numbers together based on the what-ifs,” he said, referring to his initial work on preparing the 2013 borough budget.
Nymick said he is expecting costs for other borough insurance coverage to increase by about $2,000, to roughly $32,000, next year.
Another unknown factor that will affect the 2013 budget is the status of veteran borough police officer Sgt. Dave Kanouff, who has been on leave since January due to a work-related injury.
Borough officials noted that a hearing process is under way to determine what portion of his wages would be covered by worker's compensation insurance, with the borough required to cover the balance.
Questions of when Kanouff may return to duty and the potential hiring of a new full-time officer will ultimately affect the borough police budget.
Mayor Ken “Cal” Cecconi advised that council should include sufficient funds in the budget to comply with terms of its collective bargaining agreement with police officers, through the United Mine Workers of America. He said he would ask Ed Yankovich, UMWA District 2 vice president, to meet with the borough's property and finance committee regarding the issue.
It was also recommended that the committee meet for a budget-planning session. Cecconi indicated his desire to attend the session.
Cecconi, who represents the borough on the Homer-Center Parks and Recreation Board, said the that panel has compiled a seven- to eight-page list of needed improvements — some of them costly — at the various parks and other recreational sites the rec board operates in Homer City and neighboring Center Township.
He said the rec board would need to meet with representatives from its member entities — the borough, the township and Homer-Center School District — to review the list and determine how to proceed.
Cecconi said the board is “trying to do the best we can. We need to work with everybody and decide how this is going to work.”
He said funds are running low and noted the school district, which was itself facing financial hardship, last year reduced its monetary contribution to the rec board.
According to Cecconi, repaving at Risinger Park will carry an estimated cost of $30,000 while a sliding board needs repaired at Floodway Park, located in the borough.
At Homer City's public swimming pool, which also is operated by the rec board, a valve will need to be replaced before the pool can reopen next summer, Nymick said. That job, which is expected to cost more than $1,300, will not be a simple one as it will involve cutting and fitting of pipe, he explained.
Fairly sharing rec-related costs among the member entities is a matter that has been subject to debate.
The bill for repair of lights at tennis courts in Homer City remains unsettled. Cecconi said the bill of more than $1,300 from Anderson Electric was submitted to the school district with the expectation that it would pay the full amount. But the school board has approved paying just one-third of the bill, $457, with the hope that the two other entities would each also pay a third.
Nymick said he believes an original agreement that established the rec board indicated that each member entity should be responsible for capital improvements at park sites within its municipal bounds, but he acknowledged that classification of particular projects or repairs as capital improvements also may be subject to interpretation.
Nymick noted that the borough has not restricted its resources to park sites within the borough limits. “I feel we've done above and beyond at the parks,” he said.
In another cooperative arrangement with neighboring municipalities, borough council passed a resolution supporting the Southwestern Emergency Management Agency. Nymick explained the agency currently includes Homer City and Shelocta boroughs and Center and Armstrong townships but is open to other municipalities that may want to join.
Under the terms of the agreement, the four member municipalities operate under a single joint emergency operations plan whereby Homer City could send equipment and personnel to assist with an emergency situation in any of the other participating municipalities and vice versa.
While council previously approved the joint agreement, a formal resolution was never signed and filed with Indiana County emergency management officials.
Council agreed to hold a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Homer City fire hall. It was noted the meeting is intended to solicit ideas from and address any concerns of borough citizens. It is not meant to be a forum for individual complaints.
Borough officials plan to meet Wednesday with their counterparts from Center Township and with a representative from the state Department of Community and Economic Development concerning an ongoing study of a potential consolidation of the borough and township.
Cecconi announced that Homer City's Halloween parade will begin at 5:30 p.m Oct. 31. It will start near the laundromat on East Wiley Street and will head north along Main Street to the fire hall. Trick-or-treating in the borough will follow from 6 to 8 p.m.
Nymick reported that borough crews will pick up bagged leaves on Wednesdays through Nov. 21. Bags should not be overstuffed and should be placed at the curb at the front of each residence. Garden waste and household trash will not be accepted for the collection.
Nymick reported the borough has about 40 tons of salt on hand while snow plows and salt spreaders are in good repair for the coming winter.
Police Chief Louis Sacco reported the Homer City department has received grant funding that will allow it to conduct new waves of PA Buckle Up and Aggressive Driving enforcement beginning in November and continuing into December.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or email@example.com.