Workers' comp payments more than just a windfall

Time certainly was money for the 260 officials from area county, city and village governments, school systems and libraries who spent four hours Friday at an Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation seminar. Each subdivision that sent a representative to the session at the Holiday Inn Metroplex in Liberty will get a bonus equal to 25 percent of its current workers' compensation premium.
Mahoning County, for example, is expected to rake in $750,000, while the city of Youngstown is anticipating $511,477. As Mayor George M. Mc Kelvey told The Vindicator, "It's the best return on my time I've ever gotten."
Why is the bureau of workers' compensation being so generous? Because Administrator James Conrad and his staff are hoping that the financial rewards will serve as an incentive to officeholders and department heads to embrace work-safety programs for public employees.
While the private sector has shown a strong commitment to improving its safety record -- claims filed by private sector workers has declined every year since 1995 -- governments and other public agencies have been less vigilant.
Premium increase: Statewide, the public sector's use of the workers' comp system has exploded, prompting the BWC's oversight commission to increase public employer premium rates an average of 6.4 percent this year. Given the tight budgets and economic uncertainties faced by governments at all levels, such increases are an unnecessary drain on the public coffers.
By contrast, last year, counties, cities, townships, school districts, villages and other agencies benefited from a reduction in their premiums. The $180 million in refunds statewide enabled cities like Youngstown to stop the flow of red ink in their operating budgets.
But now, the situation has taken a turn for the worse, prompting BWC to offer incentives to decision-makers to adopt work-safety programs.
Although the seminars weren't taxing for the attendees -- the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell reviewed City Hall reports during the four-hour session in Brook Park -- it doesn't mean that recipients of the state's largess are getting free ride.
Monitoring: BWC Administrator Conrad has said his office will monitor the government entities to see what progress, if any, is being made to improve work-safety records. The agency is ready to assist the public sector in developing programs that will ultimately reduce the number of claims and help injured workers return to their jobs sooner.

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