MARY ANN ANDERSON
Last Thursday night’s called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council began with disappointment for Mayor Bayne Stone.
Stone wanted to discuss the recent audit of the city finances, but his efforts were quashed when both Ward Two Councilman John Ramay and Ward Three’s Eric Griffin pointed out to the mayor that since the meeting was called, it was, in Ramay’s word, “illegal” to discuss anything other than what was on the agenda.
Stone, visibly frustrated, said that the audit required “a good bit of additional discussion” about items that he said were “about to worry me to death.”
He conceded to the council by moving on to matters that were on the agenda, including the city’s insurance renewal, the purchase of a credit card machine for Hazlehurst Municipal Airport, and closing dates of City Hall for the Fourth of July holiday.
When Brenda McLendon of McLendon-Reynolds Insurance Agency took to the podium, she told the council that the city’s insurance had gone up since last year and that the premium would be $229,693, an increase of more than $16,000 from last year’s figure of $213,599. That new premium total, added Stone, doesn’t include medical insurance costs of about $40,000 a month.
The primary culprit of the rise in insurance, Reynolds said, is the expense of worker’s compensation coverage.
“That was a 10 percent automatic increase,” she said, adding that the rate is set by the National Council on Compensation Insurance. “There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s all set. They are the ones who calculate it.”
So far this year alone, the city has had 11 worker’s compensation claims, said Reynolds, plus the premium went up because of added buildings and new vehicles.
Reynolds also said that once a claim is filed, that its deductible must be paid automatically. If a claim is against a public official, she said as an example, the cost is $5,000. For a law enforcement claim, it jumps to $15,000. For other claims, the deductible ranges from $1,000 to $50,000.
“I want to make sure everyone understands that,” she went on. “We have to be so, so cautious about these types of claims.”
The companies handling the upcoming year’s insurance are Travelers Insurance and BITCO Insurance Companies, both of whom are rated A-plus. Both companies are also sending risk managers to Hazlehurst in the coming weeks to assess issues such as safety and preventative measures to avoid accidents in the workplace.
The down payment for the coverage is $60,934, an amount that was due on June 30. The meeting was held on June 27.
The last-minute scramble to obtain insurance prompted Ward Two Councilman John Ramay to call it “bad business.”
“You got the information on one Friday, and by the next Friday we had to make a decision,” he said. “I don’t like to do business that way. I think it’s a poor way to do business.”
Reynolds said that she had to work closely with City Clerk Vernice Thompson to gather the information required for the quote and that Thompson had been “snowed under” with other work as well.
“We did the best we could,” Reynolds answered.
The vote to accept Reynolds’s quote was unanimous.
After a long discussion on the second agenda item, the need to replace the credit card reader at Hazlehurst Municipal Airport, the council voted to accept the low bid to purchase the machine of $13,245, including a built-in rebate, from QTPod of Boulder, Colo.
Airport Manager Cody White said that QTPod will take the old machine at a trade-in value of $3,495. He also pointed out that the council had to decide by June 30 if the cost is to include the rebate.
Once again, the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase.
The council then universally approved the final agenda item of closing City Hall this Thursday and Friday for the Fourth of July holiday to give city employees a four-day weekend.