Change is coming to ‘entirely inappropriate’ two-tiered city insurance program for community groups

The city pays insurance premiums for some legacy community associations, while others are left to pay for themselves.

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After two decades, it looks like change is coming to a two-tiered system that sees the city pay insurance premiums for some legacy community associations, while others are left to pay the sum themselves.

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“Having two tiers is entirely inappropriate, and we want to make sure that we’re partnering well with our community associations,” Orléans councillor and chair Matthew Luloff told the community and protective services committee at its Thursday meeting.

Luloff advised his committee colleagues that he was working with the city solicitor and recreation, cultural and facility services general manager Dan Chenier to find a resolution, assuring them that staff recognized the inequity.

“This is an issue that’s been decades in the making, and what really has sparked it is the fairly steep increase in the last two years, say, in insurance premiums. Before, it didn’t seem to make as big a difference if groups were part of this or not,” Chenier told committee members.

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Alex Cullen, president of the Federation of Citizen’s Associations of Ottawa, told the committee that a post-amalgamation decision by city council in 2001 to cap its community partners insurance program at 180 groups created the two-tier system that exists today, with those groups grandfathered into a fixed program in which their general liability insurance premiums are covered by the city.

Cullen, who was a city councillor at that time, said he obtained a copy of the 2001 report on this issue. Looking at the recommendations it contained, he said you couldn’t tell the program was being capped.

“I’m usually pretty thorough in reading these documents … I have to tell you, I would defy anyone to see that it’s obvious that it was being capped at that time.”

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The fixed program includes outdoor rink operators, community gardens and community associations offering programs at fieldhouses, Cullen said.

Chenier said Thursday he was aware of close to 40 groups in the other stream of the program, which requires them to pony up their own cash for the premium cost.

In this cohort are community groups operating winter trails, Cullen said, and associations like the Greater Avalon Community Association in Orléans — a newer community with an outdoor rink. They pay a $1,900 insurance premium, Cullen said, a tab the city picks up for associations in the grandfathered group.

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“That’s a big cost and totally unfair.”

Meanwhile, groups in both streams of the city’s community partners insurance program are grappling with major increases in insurance deductibles, which aren’t covered by the city in either case. In the previous year, Cullen said, the deductible rose from $500 per incident to $2,500.

“Thank God there hasn’t been very many claims, but it will stop any community association … My God, do we have the money to handle this? Are we prepared to take the risk? Five hundred bucks is one thing, 2,500 bucks is another.”

Cullen requested that the community partners insurance program be reviewed, considering the city’s growth post-2001 and recognizing the community groups’ non-profit status and limited financial resources, and asked that a report be brought back to the committee before the 2023 budget process.

“Maybe 20 years late, but the review is needed today.”

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