MAHONING VALLEY Seminar nets big bucks for officials

The number of claims filed by public employees has risen steadily over the past three years.
YOUNGSTOWN -- What would you do to earn $125,000 an hour?
Mayor George McKelvey earned slightly more than that Friday, a total of $511,477 for putting in four hours of time -- and he wasn't even required to work.
He and some 260 other leaders from county, city and village governments, school systems and libraries spent half of their day earning thousands -- in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars -- for their respective entities, all by showing up at a workers compensation seminar at the Holiday Inn Metroplex, Liberty.
"It's the best return on my time I've ever gotten," McKelvey said.
Use for money: He plans to use the money, which will be distributed in November, to pump up the city's safety services.
Jeff Snyder, mayor of Lisbon, and village clerk-treasurer Tracey Wonner also were at the seminar.
Because the amount of the one-time bonus is based on workers compensation premiums -- 25 percent of last year's premium -- amounts vary from a few dollars to millions of dollars.
Snyder and Wonner's presence will net Lisbon $4,600.
The Lisbon mayor said he plans to invest the money in developing a safety program that could save the village even more by reducing the number of workers compensation claims. Snyder said Lisbon, for no apparent reason, experienced a significant increase in the number of claims over the past year.
Reason for seminars: The purpose of the seminars -- a total of 14 will be held throughout Ohio, the one in Youngstown was the eighth -- is to get community leaders to support programs that reduce claims and the number of days injured workers remain off the job.
"They don't have to learn how to do it," said Jim Samuel, director of corporate affairs at the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. "They need to back the people who would implement the programs."
The series of seminars was prompted by a steady increase in the number of claims filed by public employees over the past three years. At the same time, the number of claims filed by workers employed in the private sector has declined every year since 1995, Samuel said.
Offering cash from the bureau's surplus fund, Samuel explained, was a way to lure in the leaders. They, in turn, can support safety programs that reduce the number of claims and transitional work programs that help injured workers return to their jobs sooner.
Samuel said feedback from those who've attended the seminars indicates that they are taking it in.
If a representative from every public employer in Ohio attends a seminar, the bureau would pay out some $67 million, Samuel added. There are some 4,000 public employers in Ohio, 2,800 of whom have attended or registered to attend the seminars.
Big impact possible: Even minimal improvement in the number of claims filed could have a significant impact on workers compensation premiums, Samuel said, considering some 300,000 claims are filed in Ohio each year. The cost for medical-only claims, in which workers miss no work, average $700, he added; the cost of claims where injured workers are off the job for eight days or longer average $40,000.

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