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Self-insurance a money-saver for Cape taxpayers

By Staff | Sep 8, 2012

When Mike Quigley took over the city’s insurance needs nearly a decade ago, the city was paying nearly $4 million per year for a variety of insurance products.

Today, in an era when most people have seen their premiums go up double-figures every year, the city has managed to reduce its premiums almost in half, an accomplishment Quigley has managed by thinking outside the box and by handling claims and incidents on city property in house.

Quigley said he has done this through taking a tough stance against frivolous claims and by going after those whose negligence causes damage to city property, among other things.

At the city council’s regular meeting Monday at City Hall, the city proposes to award Public Risk Insurance Agency and Preferred Governmental Claims Solutions as third-party administrator of its self-insured worker’s compensation.

It is expected to cost the city $2.1 million for the one-year deal, with City Manager John Szerlag also expected to add on two one-year renewal periods.

That is a savings of $139,000 from last year, Quigley said, and a far cry from 10 years ago, when Quigley discovered the city was paying millions more than it needed to.

“We were paying $3.8 million when I came here in 2003. Prior to that we were fully insured. We put money in a pool and we paid claims, etc” Quigley said. “We did research and hired a consultant and found it was better if we went self-insured.”

The city is now playing claims instead of premiums, with a savings of nearly $2 million per year.

“We account for every dollar. If we have to pay money, you have to prove it,” Quigley said. “We will defend what we don’t owe.”

By handling its own claims and not hiring an outside firm, the city saves $335,000 annually, Quigley said, adding the city has made insurance an enterprise fund for the way it pays the city’s costs to run the department.

Quigley, who handles the nearly $400 million in city property, including signs, roads, cars and schools, also goes after people who damage that property.

“We don’t pay twice for street signs or city property. If you destroy a stop sign, you have to pay for it,” Quigley said. “In the first four years, we got 100 percent reimbursement, about $200,000 per year.”

That kind of money savings has gotten the attention of the city’s decision makers.

“He impresses me. He’s always out there looking at what he can do,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “If you hit that tree in the median, you have to reimburse the city. It’s the stuff in the background.”

It has also helped the city hasn’t had to pay out catastrophic claims. That worries Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, as does the possibility of other claims.

“Obviously, it’s prudent when government can leave insurance companies on the side of the road, but it puts the city in a position for liability on smaller issues,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It could also come back to haunt us if a firefighter takes a fire truck to a meeting by himself and kills a pedestrian.”

Lee County has similar methods of risk management, but not all cities do it as effectively, if at all, as does Cape Coral.

“I’m tickled when I see what I’m doing,” Quigley said. “It’s working and I’m accountable to city council. Sometimes, you have to say no.”