Press-Republican

March 15, 2013

County opposes closure of Workers Comp office

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators are calling for a key Plattsburgh government office to remain open.

Legislators voted unanimously Wednesday night to oppose the state’s plan to close the Plattsburgh Workers’ Compensation Board hearing site on May 1.

The site, at 23 Elm St., is being closed to save money as part of the state’s restructuring of government agencies. 

If the Plattsburgh office closes, people in Clinton County will have to travel to the Workers’ Compensation site at 41 St. Bernard St., Saranac Lake for their hearings.

Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), who sponsored the resolution, said closing the Plattsburgh office will create a hardship on many county residents.

The Plattsburgh office sees about 120 to 150 claimants each month for hearings, according to Plattsburgh attorney John Niles, who represents many of them. The Saranac Lake site serves between 60 to 80 people each month.

In a letter to Workers’ Compensation Board Executive Director Jeffrey Fenster, Niles said the Saranac Lake office is inadequate, with no rooms for claimants and attorneys to meet in.

Closing the Plattsburgh office would mean that some Clinton County residents would have to travel as far as 150 miles round trip for hearings, Niles said.

Plattsburgh attorney Frank Zappala, who also represents many claimants, told legislators Wednesday night that closure of the Plattsburgh office would not only affect claimants but businesses.

“Employers have to bring witnesses to these hearings a lot of times, and now they will have to drive to Saranac Lake,” Zappala said. “This will be disruptive to the business community, as well.”

Legislator Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown), a farmer, agreed.

“This is not just about the employees, but the employers too,” he said.

Dyer also said that it only makes sense to close the Saranac Lake office instead, because it serves fewer people.

“This is a tremendous problem,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) agreed that the Saranac Lake office is not as well equipped as the Plattsburgh site.

“It’s not even big enough, and the amount of people going there will more than double.”

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) also wrote a letter to Fenster asking that the Plattsburgh office remain open.

A spokesman from the Workers’ Compensation Board declined to comment on plans to close the Plattsburgh office, saying it likely will be part of the ongoing state budget process.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com