WILKES-BARRE — The City Council finally voted to approve a $7.8 million health insurance contract with Highmark at its monthly meeting Thursday.

Board Chairwoman Beth Gilbert-McBride cast the lone dissenting vote in a 4-1 vote to award the deal to Highmark.

The item was withdrawn from consideration at the October 13 meeting to give the Council more time to consider it. The council raised concerns about hidden brokerage fees, but was later assured that the city would not be responsible for such costs. Mayor George Brown said any fees from broker Risk Strategies|Joyce Insurance Group, which negotiated the deal, will be paid by Highmark.

Three people spoke before the vote, generally agreeing with frequent council critic Sam Troy, who said there weren’t enough details for the public, questioning why the city used a broker to close the deal this year when it apparently hadn’t in the past, and arguing that the city has not done enough to reduce the cost of insurance through deductibles, co-pays or other methods.

City Administrator Charlie McCormick said the broker, Risk Strategies|Joyce Insurance Group, negotiated a commission down from the original 7% to 3.1%. He also said the city is required to provide coverage in the deal due to union contracts being negotiated, and that the Highmark deal is only for 2023 and the city will issue a request for proposals in hopes of getting more offers for 2024.

Other actions

The board also voted unanimously to award a contract to James T. O’Hara, Inc. to perform work on the Laurel Run and Mill Creek canal wall at various locations at a cost of just over $1 million. The walls of the canal were damaged last year by high water from the remnants of the storm “Typical Ida”. Several councilors expressed appreciation for the move, citing concerns from residents who live near the sites where the work is planned.

And the Council gave the second and final reading and approval of the two ordinances. One amends the Fire Prevention and Protection ordinance, replacing the section on consumer fireworks to better align with recently passed state law. Another amends the public utilities ordinance by removing the section on “page fees” and thereby eliminating duplicates contained in the “Building Code” ordinance.

Contact Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish