SOMERSET – All but one of the 21 local governments in Niagara County have agreed to take part in a study to determine whether a single countywide health insurance consortium would be feasible.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert, who was chosen chairman of the steering committee at a meeting Tuesday night, said only the City of Niagara Falls is not on board so far.

Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said Wednesday that the city has to discuss the matter with its employee unions before making a move.

Engert set an informal deadline of Aug. 22 for latecomers to climb on board the study. He said North Tonawanda is regarded as likely to join, although its Common Council hasn’t voted on the measure yet.

Thus, expected participants in the study include Niagara County government, two cities, all 12 towns and all five villages. Niagara County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz was chosen vice chairman of the ad hoc committee.

Engert said one of the steering committee’s most important jobs will be to determine the design of the health-care plan or plans for which it intends to seek pricing. He pledged that whatever happens, workers won’t lose out on benefits they already have.

“We’re not going backward on plan design,” Engert said. “We’re not taking away what they bargained for.”

The study, to be conducted by the consulting firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., will analyze the benefit packages of all municipalities and unions to determine whether each governmental unit could save money by contributing to a countywide insurance pool rather than keeping the health care status quo.

“We’re looking at reporting back to the municipalities by February or so,” Engert said. Each government will receive an individualized report.

The Gallagher firm isn’t charging for the feasibility study. The company hopes to make money by being hired to organize the consortium, if one is formed.

Engert said the 20 units on board account for about 3,000 active and retired workers who received health insurance through their municipal policies. Dyster said Niagara Falls would increase that number by about 1,400: 800 retirees and 600 active workers on city health insurance.

“Niagara Falls is important,” Engert said. “That will give us the greatest appeal to the (insurance) marketplace. We would be a very large elephant in Western New York in terms of pricing.”

Dyster said, “We’re not opposed in principle, but we want to know what our partners in the municipal unions think.”

He said that when former Mayor Vince Anello got the unions to agree to a common city health plan, part of the deal was the formation of a health-care committee of labor and management that would have to approve any changes.

He said the city had recently started its own effort to find health insurance savings with help from the Brown & Brown accounting firm of Niagara Falls. Dyster said he thought abandoning that project without union input would look like “bad faith.”

Engert said the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, which is independent of the city, sent a representative to the meeting and is interested in joining the study. He said some legal research will be needed to determine if the authority can be admitted.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com