LOOGOOTEE – A divided Loogootee City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to return the city’s workers’ compensation insurance business to a Loogootee insurance agent, who pleaded with them to do so.

On Feb. 10, the council voted 4-0, with Carroll Rayhill absent, to give the business to Dave Welch of German American Insurance, who made a presentation to the council. During that meeting, Councilman Rick Norris said current city employees had not received good service from the former insurance provider.

Monday night Norris explained further, saying a city employee had been injured last July, but in December his father was still receiving threatening letters because the claim had not been fully paid.

Rex Strawn from Strawn Agency lobbied the council to return the business to him. He apologized for the poor service which had been provided, but said he had not been informed of the problem when it first happened.

“If you have a problem with a claim, I want to know,” Strawn said. “I want to take care of you guys.”

Strawn said Welch lives near Bloomington, so he claimed giving the business to him took it away from a local business, which pays taxes to the city and Martin County.

“I think I have done my job,” Strawn said, pointing out he has twice changed insurance companies in past years to save the city money. “I’m not in it for the money, I do it for the service.”

Norris said the city had worked with Welch before and there had been no problems. He also said he would not change his mind, since he had given his word.

Councilwoman Teresa Nolley made a motion to switch the insurance provider business back to Strawn, and it was supported by Ron Gilbert and Tim Lawrence. Norris and Rayhill were opposed.

The city’s insurance coverage comes through the Indiana Public Employees Plan, which is described on its web site as a “nonprofit, self-funded workers’ compensation program for Indiana public employees.”

Strawn told the council the city’s insurance premium would rise to about $20,000 this year due to increased claims in recent years. He provided the council with the loss ratio for each year since 2003. With only one claim that year, the city’s premium was $11,499.

Until 2015, the city only had more than two workers’ compensation claims once, in 2010 with four, and the losses that year were minimal.

However, there were five claims each in 2015, 2016 and 2019, and four in 2018. Paid losses totaled $20,384 in 2018 and $18,152 in 2019. The city’s premium was $18,018 in 2018 and $14,857 in 2019.

In other business, Clerk-Treasurer Carol Harder said the city’s financial balance sheet for the end of 2019 should be finalized by the end of the month. Her office fell way behind last year after Harder missed many weeks of work due to a serious medical situation.

Harder said getting everything resolved had taken longer than anticipated, but she has been working with a couple of consultants and they have nearly completed the task.

Lawrence said the city is planning several important projects, but “it’s hard to spend money when you don’t really know” how much money the city has in any account.

Mayor Noel Harty said the Loogootee Ministerial Association supported a proposal by Forrest Burton to erect a Ten Commandments display on land donated by the city.

Harty asked City Attorney Isha Wright-Ryan to check the legality of the request and to report back at the April 13 meeting.

Before the council meeting, the Board of Public Works and Safety met. Several residents on John C. Strange Street asked for the city’s help with maintaining the street. They said years ago city officials had promised to take over the road and maintain it, but no record has been found showing any official action was taken. Some maintenance work was done years ago, but none recently. The residents said the road is so bad trash trucks and delivery trucks won’t venture down it, because there is no place to turn around.

The matter was tabled until the April 13 meeting so the board members could investigate the situation, but Harty promised the residents a decision will be made then.

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