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City volunteers now insured under workers' comp plan
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City volunteers will be covered by worker's compensation, determined members of the Ceres City Council on July 27.

Members voted 4-1 to extend the coverage to the approximately 55 volunteers who expand the city's effectiveness in service levels. Councilman Guillermo Ochoa voted against the majority.

The issue came about when a city volunteers was injured while serving the city. A $75,000 claim has been paid to date, said City Attorney Michael Lyions.

Lyions recommended that the City Council place all volunteers under the workers' compensation insurance. A state Labor Code Section requires that if the city wants to offer coverage, it needs to approve a resolution. The council did that after considerable debate over potential costs.

The city's insurance pool, the San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, said the claim can be paid through worker's comp since the resolution is retroactive to April 1, before the date of the injury.

Offering workers' comp, said Lyions, also insulates the city from lawsuits alleging negligence. Without the protection the city also opened itself up to suits claiming pain and suffering. Now workers' compensation insulates the city from such lawsuits, Lyions noted.

Assistant City Manager Betina McCoy said that while the city's insurance premiums would not go up, the city's rates are based on its experience rating for work-related injuries. Premiums are based on a five-year blotter of expenses so any claims wouldn't affect premiums until the sixth year, she said.

The city has a number of volunteers, including volunteer firefighters and intern firefighters, VIPS (Volunteers in Public Safety), reserve police officers in training, police explorers and police chaplains.

Lyions recommended against the city asking volunteers to sign a waiver to give up their rights to bring suits against the city, noting that "it's a lot to ask of a volunteer." He said the move could have diminished the city's ability to get volunteers.

Public Safety Director/Police Chief Art deWerk said volunteers' time is valued at $80,000 to $200,000 a year.

Some members appeared irritated that the volunteer's injury was due to doing something not warranted.

"The citizens of Ceres are picking up the bill for someone who was doing something they shouldn't have been doing," said Mayor Anthony Cannella.