Commissioners decide to avoid 'tough pill' for District 1

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners decided unanimously last week that it is too early to begin shifting the financial burden of the county's workers compensation coverage toward District 1.

In recent weeks, County Clerk Robin Slack has explained to the three-member Osage County Board of County Commissioners that figures for the previous seven years indicate the District 1 road maintenance operation generates a high proportion of worker accidents, and other elements of the county governmental structure have been subsidizing District 1 by paying more than their share of the annual Workers Comp premium.

Osage County government is self-insured for Workers Comp through the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma (ACCO). The county is due to pay its annual premium of slightly more than $261,000. Slack offered the commissioners information about accident rates, and possible ways to divide up the payment burden for the premium among different elements of county government. Of the four options she provided to the commissioners, Slack recommended to them an option that would involve District 1 beginning to take on more of the financial burden.

The commissioners settled, by a 3-0 vote on June 21, on standing stand pat. They opted not to make changes yet, to avoid causing hardship for the District 1 road maintenance operation.

The option for dividing up the financial burden of the $261,000 premium that the commissioners chose calls for District 1 to provide just over $57,500, while District 2 will contribute about $24,000 and District 3 will kick in a little more than $50,400. The General Fund's portion will be about $60,000, and the Sheriff's Office will be responsible for slightly more than $58,000.

The option that Slack recommended, as a way to begin moving toward an incident-based financial burden would have called for about $105,000 from District 1, just over $13,250 from District 2 and nearly $17,750 from District 3. The General Fund's portion would have been almost $41,000, and the Sheriff's Office would have contributed a little  over $65,000.

What Slack offered as an actual incident-based option, using figures from the previous seven years, would have called for more than $176,000 from District 1, about $11,800 from District 2 and a little over $8,000 from District 3. The General Fund's portion would have been about $5,200, and the Sheriff's Office would have contributed about $58,700.

In discussion of the issue during the June 14 commissioners meeting, Slack said the General Fund, as well as District 2 and District 3 had been subsidizing the accident costs of District 1.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones, who is still in his first term of office, said June 14 that he has been working to get his district's accident numbers down.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is board chair this year, expressed sympathy for Jones's plight.

"That's a pretty tough pill to swallow when you don't have it," McKinney said.

When the commissioners took up the subject again June 21, Jones said that even a move to an intermediate option calling for District 1 to come up with $105,000 toward the current workers comp premium payment could have drastic effects on the District 1 road operation.

"Sure. I can let 10 employees go and we can stop working on the road," Jones said, when asked if he could manage a $105,000 contribution in this premium cycle.

District 2 Commissioner Steve Talburt eventually made a motion to stick with the approach that county commissioners have taken in previous years, buying time to consider when and how to move the burden of the workers comp premiums toward a more incident-based approach.