By Donald Wittkowski
When a Superior Court jury awarded a Pennsylvania woman nearly $1.6 million last year in her lawsuit against Sea Isle City, local taxpayers were saved from getting stuck with a big bill.
Instead, a joint insurance fund that includes Sea Isle as a member helped to pay the award, which compensated the woman for injuries she suffered when she was hit by a city work vehicle in 2014 while riding her bicycle.
In a move that will continue to protect Sea Isle taxpayers from insurance claims in the future, City Council voted Tuesday to renew its contract with the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, or ACMJIF
“Quite frankly, it’s a very important program,” City Business Administrator George Savastano told Council.
Altogether, 41 municipalities from Atlantic, Cape May, Camden, Cumberland and Gloucester counties belong to the ACMJIF. Essentially, they pool their resources for protection against insurance payouts, lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims.
Dollars not spent on claims are returned to the municipalities as dividends. In Sea Isle’s case, it received a nearly $115,000 dividend in 2017. Overall, Sea Isle has received a total of about $1.2 million in dividends during all the years it has been a JIF member.
Paul Miola, a consultant who administers the ACMJIF for the municipalities, praised Sea Isle for its wellness and safety programs that have helped to reduce insurance payouts, including workers’ compensation claims.
“Sea Isle City has done an outstanding job promoting wellness with its employees,” Miola said during a JIF presentation to Council on Tuesday.
Echoing Miola’s remarks, Savastano said the city’s department heads and staff have placed safety “at the top.”
“To me, it’s important because it trickles down through the organization,” Savastano said.
The JIF also protects its member municipalities from cyber attacks. Miola noted that towns and cities face an increasing threat from computer hackers in the digital age.
“It’s an awful thing to come in Monday morning and find your computer blue and a demand for ransom,” Miola said of hackers.
Paul Baldini, Sea Isle’s solicitor, said the JIF offers cheaper premiums than what the city would have to pay if it had insurance coverage from a private company.
In 2018, Sea Isle is paying $946,487 for its JIF premium, according to a document released during the Council meeting. Miola said the city’s premiums have dropped about $15,000 since Sea Isle last renewed its JIF contract in 2015, reflecting a good record overall with its insurance claims.
Because the JIF is a public entity owned and controlled by its member municipalities, all surplus is returned to the towns and cities.
Altogether, $3 million in surplus was returned to the ACMJIF members in 2017. Nearly $34 million in surplus has been returned to the municipalities since the insurance fund was created in 1987, according to Miola.
Citing the JIF’s affordable premiums and financial stability, Miola called the public insurance fund “the most successful example of interlocal cooperation in New Jersey history.”