Luzerne County Council on Tuesday started discussing the administration’s proposal to switch insurance brokers next year.
County Acting County Manager Romilda Crocamo is asking county council to retain USI Insurance Services as broker for 2022 and 2023 for $60,000 annually, based on the unanimous recommendation of an administration committee that independently screened, ranked and interviewed all four submissions.
USI would receive $60,000 annually to seek insurance providers and administer claims.
The county pays current broker, Pittston-based Joyce Insurance Group, $50,000 annually.
However, the Joyce company also submitted a proposal at a lower $47,500 annually if it is selected to remain insurance broker in 2022 and 2023, records show.
The two other proposals submitted this year were $70,000 annually from Assured Partners of NEPA and $73,000 per year from One Group NY Inc., records show.
County Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik told council Tuesday the committee recommended USI based on its overall ability to provide requested services, its ranking as one of the largest brokers in the nation and its extensive placement of insurance with Travelers Insurance. Lehigh County has been a USI client for more than 20 years, he added.
Councilman Harry Haas commended the administration committee and said he hopes there is not a “repeat” of the insurance selection made two years ago, which he described as political.
In 2019, prior county manager C. David Pedri had recommended the county keep Bethlehem-based Brown & Brown of Lehigh Valley at its $60,000 yearly fee as endorsed by an employee committee.
Instead, a council majority voted to switch to Joyce Insurance, pointing to a $10,000 savings and the opportunity to reward a county-based business.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Councilman Robert Schnee asked Parsnik why USI stood out.
Parsnik said the broker has teams assembled to assist with safety measures and other policies that will help the county obtain the “best possible” premiums. The broker’s experience dealing with Travelers also may help with rates for the county’s law enforcement and Children and Youth coverage, which has increased due to the type and number of claims, he said.
Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck noted USI had submitted the low proposal of $35,000 two years ago and questioned why the payment has significantly increased.
USI representative Ryan Sharp, who was in attendance at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, said the fee is “really competitive” and based on increased market pressures.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Matthew Vough brought up Haas’ assertion of politics in the prior insurance selection, accusing Haas of playing politics by seeking a future council vote to forbid a county employee vaccine mandate.
Crocamo has said — and repeated again Tuesday — that she supports vaccination but is not actively pursuing an employee vaccine mandate.
Haas, a Republican, said COVID-19 vaccines are still “experimental” and that people should have a choice, including those with natural antibody defense from a prior coronavirus infection.
McClosky Houck said some people don’t think they should have to wear seat belts, but they are mandated.
“I think this is a management decision as to how to best protect workers,” she said. “Personal rights are one thing, but public safety is another.”
In other business, council voted Tuesday to:
• Approve a $585,000 flood buyout expenditure for two West Pittston properties to close out litigation filed in 2018 by Richard and Kimberly Hazzouri. This suit argued the borough did not sufficiently advertise the opportunity to participate in a past buyout program funded by disaster recovery funds channeled through the county following record 2011 Susquehanna River flooding.
Crocamo said the payment will come from the county general fund operating budget and be used to buy out the properties. The litigation was not covered by the county’s insurance. Municipalities must own and maintain buyout properties and agree to keep them undeveloped.
The total buyout is $650,000, and Crocamo said the balance will be paid by non-county defendants and/or their insurance.
• Accept a payment in lieu of taxes from the company in the process of purchasing the Sherman Hills apartment complex in Wilkes-Barre. The buyer —Washington, D.C.-based Indelible Housing Inc. — has agreed to pay the county, Wilkes-Barre and the Wilkes-Barre Area School District a combined $400,000 annually, with index-based increases, even though it won’t be required to do so as a charitable nonprofit, its attorney said.
• Wait to decide whether to grant or reject the administration’s request to return Joyce, Carmody & Moran P.C. to the insurance carrier panel of law firms eligible to provide county litigation defense.
Haas said he is against reinstatement and that council should not consider it until November, or one year after council’s decision to bar the firm from handling future county litigation due to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court recusal request.
Council members had no idea the firm would be filing a motion on the county’s behalf seeking recusal of then-new Supreme Justice Amy Coney Barrett from a case involving ballot-counting deadlines and learned of the action through an onslaught of national and local media coverage highlighting the county’s legal position in October.
Crocamo said some replacement law firms are competent but from out of the area, requiring more education about county government.
• Postpone adoption of an ordinance amending the county Flood Protection Authority’s articles of incorporation so it can proceed with an agreement to maintain Duryea’s planned levee improvements, with the borough agreeing to cover costs. Some council members disagreed over newer proposed wording.