The members of the Matewan Town Council were surprised with large increase in its worker’s compensation insurance premiums following an audit conducted by the town’s insurance provider.

According to Kelly May, town accountant, Liberty Mutual conducted an audit of Matewan worker’s compensation plan and found the town was being undercharged on its premiums. That determination was made with a set formula Liberty Mutual uses based on the number of people covered under the plan and hours worked. 

After finishing the audit, Liberty Mutual raised the compensation, premiums by more than $8,000 for the current year and applied an additional charge to the town of more than $9,000 for last year’s premium, she said.

May further explained the area that saw the largest premium increase was the Matewan Volunteer Fire Department. The department has so many members who respond to calls that the gross hours worked outweighed the scope of the original policies.

The council expressed surprise at the information and Mayor Sheila Kessler said she did not know how the town could continue paying the compensation for the VFD. The town has paid the compensation for all departments as a whole in the past.

Fire Chief Brian Casto was asked to come into the council meeting and May explained the situation to him. A discussion ensued as to whether the MVFD had funds to cover the premiums.

“We regret it has come to the point that we have to we have to ask this,” Kessler said. “But, we have to ask.”

The council asked the fire chief if the department could pay $3,596. This represents the entire compensation premium for the current year and only the increase in charges from last year. 

Casto confirmed with May that the department did have the funds available and was willing to pay for the policy.

“We cannot let our compensation policy lapse. If its lapses, we will be shut down,” Casto said. “We understand the position the city is in and will pay our share.”

Casto went on to explain that compensation premiums have risen for all fire departments across the board. The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office, because of the widespread nature of the situation, has established a special fund to assist departments in paying the premiums.

“Because the town has been paying our compensation we have not been eligible for the funds,” Casto said. “Now that we will be paying it ourselves, we will be able to get those funds. It won’t pay for the whole cost, but we will be able to recoup some of the money and it will not be as much of a burden to us.”

Casto’s positive response and the fact the department would get some state assistance in the matter relieved the worries of the council.

“We are not trying to take money away from the fire department just to be doing it,” Kessler said. “But an additional $3,600 is a big lick to the town. We just couldn’t see any way to get by it.”

Following an executive session to discuss personnel matters, the council voted to incentivize employees in the Water and Sewer Department for completing certifications.  The department now has two Class II operators and one employee is seeking to gain a Class I ranking. The motions called for a bonus on each level employees pass and an hourly increase upon gaining certifications.

“We told these new employees when we hired them that we would give them a bonus if they got certified. This just formalizes that agreement,” Kessler said. “Our workers are interested in improving themselves and we want to encourage them. We have worked hard to get good employees and we want them to know we appreciate them.”

Town Clerk Rachel Day, along with Jenna Chafin and Nicki Linville, discussed Halloween plans and a Homecoming Parade for Matewan PreK-8 middle school football team.

The Homecoming Parade will be held on Friday, Sept. 20, with the line up at 12:30 p.m. and arrival in town at approximately 1:30 p.m. Chafin said the school will allow students to come into town to watch the parade.

In addition, Chafin and the council are asking residents of Hatfield Bottom, which the parade route will pass, to decorate their fences in support of the team.

The council decided to conduct a Halloween Party on Saturday, Oct. 26 with a Trunk –or-Treat in town on Halloween night, Thursday, Oct. 31. The party will have a variety of activities including costume and pumpkin decorating contests. The pumpkins will be on display from Saturday through Thursday and winners will be announced at the Trunk-or-Treat event.

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