The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 17, 2012

Cambria pact raises questions

Consulting company to be paid $100,000

— When the Cambria County commissioners say they can save taxpayer dollars, we’re all ears.

But the “cost-saving” hiring last week of a health-care consulting company raises a few questions – and, no doubt, eyebrows.

Commissioners Douglas Lengenfelder and Mark Wissinger put aside employee protests while hiring Gallagher Benefit Services Inc. at a cost of $100,000. Gallagher, it was reported, would be paid out of the $300,000 it says it will save the county in health-care costs.

The eyebrow-raising stems from the fact the commissioners are, in essence, adding to their payroll at a time they have been on a campaign-promised mission to cut costs and corners wherever possible to stabilize a fragile operating budget.

Now the questions:

* Why the big hurry to approve this agreement?

* Is there no one or group on staff already capable of accomplishing the cost savings?

* If not, shouldn’t somebody be fired and replaced by someone more competent?

* Can the service fee for Gallagher legally be taken out of the health-care reserves? That’s a question Controller Ed Cernic Jr. says he’ll have to research.

Perhaps some or all of these questions soon will be answered? 

As reported by our Sandra Reabuck, Gallagher Benefit is a subsidiary of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., which was retained last year as Cambria’s insurance broker. Arthur J. Gallagher merged last year with the former Gleason Agency of Johnstown.

Doing the health-care figuring to this point has been the county’s health-care committee, made up of 18 union employees and human resource director Brian Beppler.

That group opposed the hiring of Gallagher and said it was made aware of the move only two days prior to the commissioners’ meeting.

Patricia Moore, an assistant public defender and a committee member, said her group has saved the county $4.27 million in health-care coverage since 2007 while doing the same job – at no cost – as the consultant would do.

She called the hiring a “waste of money.”

Also against the agreement was minority Commissioner Thomas Chernisky, who had asked that it be tabled until other proposals could be heard and reviewed.

We agree. Why rush it?

“This could be a great opportunity for success,” Lengenfelder said. “There is a guarantee from Gallagher of a savings of $300,000. If at any time we’re not happy (with Gallagher), we can give 30 days’ notice. We can walk away.”

The agreement is effective Nov. 1. We’ll be watching closely, along with other county residents, to monitor the results of this action.


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