A former Westbrook fire chief’s $320,000 settlement with the city would bring the total payout to members of the long-troubled Fire Department to more than $1 million in less than a year.
Many of the costs associated with the lawsuits are paid for by the city’s insurance, which covers cases in which the city is being sued for monetary damages.
So, how much is actually coming out of taxpayers’ pockets?
In terms of the settlements, it’s whatever exceeds the insurance policy’s cap on coverage. But payouts to the aggrieved employees aren’t the only way the lawsuits affect the city’s bottom line. The costly claims also drive up the price of the city’s insurance.
That increase takes its toll over time. The immediately noticeable hit is the payment doled out in the settlement.
In the case of former Fire Chief Daniel Brock, the charge to Westbrook taxpayers would be $110,000, if the City Council approves Brock’s agreement at a meeting tonight.
The city’s other recent costly settlements were with female firefighters Kathy Rogers and Lisa Theberge, who together received $846,000 in exchange for dropping lawsuits that alleged pervasive sexual harassment within the department.
The City Council last September approved spending $228,000 of taxpayer money in those deals.
So, for all three settlements, taxpayers will pay $338,000 of the $1.2 million that the employees receive.
“I’m pleased that we were able to settle these disputes and believe that it would have been more risky and potentially more costly to go the court route on some of them,” said Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton.
Each claim covered by insurance also requires that the city pay a deductible, the cost of which differs depending on the type of claim.
Each of the three Fire Department employees’ lawsuits triggered the payment of a $10,000 deductible. That adds another $30,000 to the cost of the lawsuits.
Big settlements also affect the annual premium the city pays for insurance coverage.
Between 2009 and 2010, the premium jumped from $188,000 to $208,000, or a $20,000 increase. In the three years prior, the premium increased an average of about $10,000 per year.
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the female firefighters’ claims were made in 2009, the same year the city took over the former Wescott Junior High School building from the School Department, which also contributed to the insurance premium increase.
The city, which had been covered through the Maine Municipal Association, competitively bid its insurance last year and switched to Westbrook-based Paquin & Carroll Inc., which resulted in a $10,000 decrease in its premium.
It’s unclear how the Brock settlement could affect that cost in coming years.
Hilton said she’s pleased that the insurance premiums “haven’t increased considerably,” and pointed out that, as a general trend, the number of claims against the city is decreasing. Last year, there were 13 claims — the lowest number in the past six years.
She believes the city will run into fewer problems as long as it continues to proactively manage its employees.
For the mayor, that means setting high expectations and making sure managers see that they’re met.
“If we both do our respective jobs, we shouldn’t continue to see issues that we’ve seen in the past,” she said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at