A crisis is developing. Commercial insurance carriers are passing along dramatic premium increases to government consumers, while offering drastically reduced coverages.
The crisis intensifies. Nebraska counties, like many other entities, experience an average increase of 160 percent in their premiums for liability coverage. As concerns mount, counties begin discussions on finding alternatives.
The Nebraska Association of County Officials Board of Directors and NACO Insurance Committee, in response to growing concerns of county officials and a recommendation from NACO Executive Director Jack Mills, authorize an informational meeting to address possible solutions for the dilemma counties face. County commissioners and supervisors participate in a September 25 meeting to explore their options with a number of insurance industry experts, including Steve Kahn of the California consulting firm of Advanced Risk Management Techniques (ARM Tech), and Association of County Commissioners of Alabama Executive Director Buddy Sharpless, whose organization has successfully managed a self-insurance program for 10 years. The meeting produces overwhelming support for a self-insurance program for Nebraska counties and 46 counties agree to jointly fund and retain ARM Tech to conduct a feasibility study.
Crafted by NACO, with assistance from other public entities, the Intergovernmental Risk Management Act – LB 398 – is introduced in the Nebraska Legislature by Senators David Landis, Dan Lynch, Roger Wehrbein, Rex Haberman, Wiley Remmers and Jim Pappas. The bill is intended to enable counties, cities, school districts, public power districts, technical community colleges, state colleges and the University of Nebraska to form separate legal entities to provide risk management services and insurance coverages for property, general liability, errors and omissions and workers’ compensation losses. Governor Kay Orr signs LB 398 into law in April, and its passage and signing are hailed as a bill having a monumental positive impact for public entities. With the feasibility of a county self-insurance pool already clearly established, Arthur J. Gallagher and Company is selected as the pool’s broker and returns with insurance marketplace quotations 20 percent less than what had been projected. In excess of 60 meetings are conducted statewide for counties interested in potentially joining the pool. Thirty-two counties sign on as charter members and in December elect a nine-member Board of Directors, with Buffalo County Supervisor Jim Anderson serving as chair. Anderson, himself a successful independent insurance agent, is credited with playing a major role in passage of LB 398 earlier in the year.
Upon receiving a Certificate of Authority on January 7 from the Nebraska Department of Insurance, the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (NIRMA), with 32 charter members, becomes the first liability self-insurance pool of its kind in Nebraska. Five months later the Nebraska Department of Insurance issues a second Certificate of Authority to NIRMA, this one to allow the pool to offer workers’ compensation coverage. As of July 1, six additional counties have joined NIRMA. The NIRMA Board of Directors votes to invest its excess funds in banks located in member counties. The initial investment amount totals $1.3 million.
An education day is planned to provide member counties with a review of the NIRMA program and to offer information to prospective members. Senator David Landis is presented a special award during the 95th annual Nebraska Association of County Officials convention in recognition of his introduction of LB 398 and his efforts to bring about its passage two years earlier. Seven more counties become NIRMA members during the year, which now stands at 46.
The commercial insurance industry continues to question the validity and performance of the self-insurance pool. NIRMA Risk Report, a four-page supplement, debuts in Countyline magazine to provide monthly updates on the pool and interesting articles to help counties reduce risks and potential claims. A model personnel system is developed by NIRMA and 17 workshops are conducted across the state to provide counties with assistance in complying with the complexities of employment law issues. Additionally, the first of 12 seminars are offered to county road employees to address proper signing procedures. Thirty percent of county contribution dollars are used to purchase excess insurance, leaving the balance to pay claims and expenses, while earning interest. By October, NIRMA has invested in excess of $7 million in financial institutions in 49 member counties. The following month the member fund balance surpasses $5.6 million. NIRMA establishes an annual awards program to recognize an individual who stands out as an exemplary liaison between his or her county and NIRMA.
In a proactive approach not common among self-insurance pools, the NIRMA Board of Directors develops and adopts the pool’s first comprehensive five-year strategic plan to outline goals and a specific mission for future development, enhanced financial stability, and expanded services for members. NIRMA’s third policy year begins August 1 and personal visits are made in advance to the member counties. Despite a softening in the insurance market, NIRMA enjoys a 100 percent recommitment. A $164,787 retrospective premium adjustment is issued to 39 counties. The year ends with a membership total of 51 counties.
NIRMA develops and presents a comprehensive workshop on the Americans with Disabilities Act and its intent. Growth continues with the addition of two more counties, boosting membership to 53. NIRMA expands its awards program to begin recognizing counties for exemplary loss control efforts and for the most improved loss control history, which further reduces claims and contributes to the pool’s success.
NIRMA proactively anticipates the passage of LB 775, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, and aggressively works with counties to establish safety committees. Guidelines are developed for the creation of safety committees by January 1 of the following year and the counties are quick to respond. In response to a growing need, NIRMA develops a four-hour defensive driving course approved by the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center and offers it to law enforcement personnel. Completion of an independent appraisal service’s comprehensive examination of all county-owned buildings and facilities eliminates serious inequities among participating counties and the potential for disproportionate contribution rates, giving NIRMA further credibility with national excess insurance carriers. Total assets in excess of $14 million surpass the most optimistic financial projections and provide even greater evidence of NIRMA’s financial stability. Currently, 111 local financial institution across Nebraska are holding NIRMA investments.
A dividend of $392,376 is issued to 46 counties that were pool participants during the 1988 and 1989 contract years. It is the first actual dividend issued by NIRMA from a portion of the remaining member fund balance. The dividend is made possible due to the participating counties’ on-going efforts to reduce their liability and claims. As a result, the taxpayers are the beneficiaries. NIRMA adds its 54th and 55th counties to the pool. A NIRMA staff position of loss control specialist is created to assist counties in strengthening their respective loss control efforts.
An initial $10,000 in savings and a projected additional $5,000 in annual savings thereafter will be realized by counties as a result of a consortium created by NIRMA to help counties comply with federally-mandated drug and alcohol testing of employees who are required to possess a Commercial Drivers’ License. Member counties realize even greater savings as on-going loss control training and inspection services provided by NIRMA result in an additional $100,000 savings during the preceding 12 months. Members counties receive good news when contribution rates for the 1995-1996 policy year are reduced by approximately 11 percent for liability and property coverage and approximately 12.5 percent for workers’ compensation coverage, combined with the addition of crime and blanket bond coverage at no additional cost. The financial rewards continue as a six-month training program for in excess of 1,100 officials and employees in 57 counties on Department of Transportation drug and alcohol testing regulations saves counties $181,000.
The year begins with 47 counties receiving $366,950 in dividends from the member fund balance for policy years 1988, 1989 and 1990, bringing the amount returned to counties since 1991 to $924,113. Counties are credited with making the dividends possible by controlling losses and claims. Nebraska Department of Insurance Director Robert Lange praises NIRMA as establishing itself in just eight short years as a viable alternative to the standard insurance industry market. NIRMA distributes revised Model Personnel System and Law Enforcement Policies and Procedures Manuals at no cost to counties. HeartlandCOMP becomes NIRMA’s third party administrator for workers’ compensation claims. As part of its services, HeartlandCOMP offers a managed care program to aid counties in controlling and reducing medical costs, which is a relatively new concept. The NIRMA Board of Directors announces plans to issue its third dividend, based on 5 percent of participating members’ 1995 contributions, for counties that recommit for three years. Group Travel Accidental Death and Dismemberment benefits of up to $100,000 are offered at not cost to member counties for their employees. By year’s end the pool’s membership stands at 58 counties.
In a tremendous show of confidence, all 57 counties participating in NIRMA extend their recommitment for an additional three years. The NIRMA Board of Directors announces plans to establish a member fund balance of $10 million, which will permit the distribution of dividends from unencumbered funds in excess of that amount. The pool now holds in excess of $20 million in cash assets. Forty-seven counties receive a total dividend of $311,493 for 1988 and 1990, marking fifth monetary return over a 6-year span and increasing the collective total to nearly $1.5 million. An independent consultant reports NIRMA is one of the most financially sound pools he has ever examined. Contribution rates are reduced by 19.37 percent for liability coverage and 6.07 percent for workers’ compensation coverage for the policy year beginning August 1. NIRMA loss control begins offering a series of back injury workshops, surveying all counties to identify potential danger situations, and developing a Railroad Grade Crossing Safety Program. With the addition of four more counties, increasing its membership to 62, NIRMA reaches a significant milestone as two-thirds of Nebraska counties now participate in the self-insurance pool. Members are informed NIRMA has earned in excess of $5.2 million in interest income since 1988.
NIRMA marks the start of its 10th anniversary by recognizing its 32 charter member counties and issuing its fifth dividend to 47 counties in the amount of $420,000 for the 1989 policy year. It is the largest single return since NIRMA began issuing dividends in 1994 and increases the total amount counties have received to nearly $1.9 million. Adding to its ever-expanding services, NIRMA publishes a Model Loss Control Manual to assist counties in addressing a variety of workplace safety issues. The NIRMA Board of Directors announces there will be no rate increase for policy year 1998-1999 and yet another dividend, estimated at $528,000, is planned from the 1989 policy year. An additional announcement is that the coverage offered through the blanket bond, part of the NIRMA package, will be expanded on August 1 by 50 percent to $300,000, with the deductible unchanged and no additional cost to counties. NIRMA’s Group Travel Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage, implemented two years earlier, pays its first benefits totaling $159,500 to the survivors of two county employees killed in a work-related traffic accident. While the insurance market is now consumer-friendly and competitive, NIRMA’s stability in its rating structure and its comprehensive coverage lines continue to make it an attractive option for counties. As NIRMA concludes its 10th anniversary, its financial status has never been stronger, with a combined member fund balance exceeding $14 million and generated interest of more than $6.5 million.
NIRMA begins assisting counties in preparing for Y2K. The sixth and largest dividend to date issued by NIRMA amounts to $528,000 for 47 counties that were members in 1989. With this dividend, the 47 have now received a total return averaging 53.6 percent of their premium contributions for the 1989 policy year. More than 200 county officials and employees attend the annual membership meeting, the largest attendance since the meeting began. NIRMA grows to 63 counties. The combined member fund balance increases by nearly $1.5 from the preceding year, and now totals $15,560,531. Interest earned by the liability and workers’ compensation pools, officially referred to since 1988 as NIRMA and NIRMA II, respectively, increases to $7.6 million, which includes just over $1 million in the past 12 months. Plans are announced to issue a $1 million recommitment dividend to those counties that approve a resolution to continue their participation for the next three years. The NIRMA Board of Directors approves the issuance of an additional $500,000 in dividends in 2000 to 57 counties that became members prior to August 1, 1996.
The 10th annual NIRMA conference is highlighted by the distribution of a $500,000 dividend to 57 counties that were members from 1991 through 1996. This marks the eighth dividend issued since 1994 and increases the total returned to counties to more than $3.9 million. In another overwhelming show of support, 100 percent of NIRMA members commit for an additional three years. With the membership nearly doubling since 1988, a decision is made to expand the NIRMA Board of Directors from nine to 11 members to increase continuity and geographic representation. As the Board of Directors prepares to establish rates for the coming year, it is clear a hardening in the property and casualty insurance market will have an impact on the pools’ excess lines costs. But NIRMA’s proven stability and growth continue to make it an attractive book of business to excess lines insurers. Jack Mills, considered a driving force behind the creation of NIRMA in the late 1980s and for the pool’s continuous growth and development over the past decade, retires as executive director of both NIRMA and NACO. Craig Nelson is named as Mills’ successor. NIRMA achieves another significant milestone as its membership grows to 64 with the July 1 addition of Gosper County, which officially doubles the membership size from when the pool was created in 1988. Forty additional years of combined government experience is added when the NIRMA Board of Directors grows from nine to 11 members. NIRMA and NIRMA II realize an all-time high member fund balance of $14 million. Since 1988, the pools have earned nearly $9.25 million in interest. By year’s end, the membership stands at 65 counties and plans are announced for an additional $1 million dividend.
Aon Risk Services of Nebraska, Inc., assumes the critical role of NIRMA’s insurance broker. Claims administration functions are now handled in-house, giving NIRMA instant access to information and providing member counties with a more expeditious means of handling their claims. Fifty-six counties and their taxpayers once again reap the further benefits of NIRMA in the form of a $1 million dividend for contract years 1991 and 1995. In six years, NIRMA has returned in excess of $4.9 million to member counties. The 2001 insurance market is being compared to that of the mid 1980s, giving further credence to the value of NIRMA. Jim Anderson, chairman of the NIRMA Board of Directors since the pools were created in 1988, announces his retirement from county government. Doris Karloff is elected to succeed Anderson. NIRMA is not immune from the current hard market conditions and will pay nearly 40 percent more in insurance costs compared to the previous year. Because of its financial stability, NIRMA is able to limit a member contribution rate increase to 9.5 percent for the coming policy year and retain existing deductibles and coverage levels. This emphasizes the importance of self-insurance pooling, as NIRMA is able to absorb the increase in excess insurance costs without passing it on in its entirety to the membership. As year-end approaches, the combined member fund balance of NIRMA and NIRMA II exceeds $14.5 million and interest earned since 1988 tops $10 million.
Despite a continuation of difficult market conditions, NIRMA begins the year with yet another stellar financial report. Its commitment to return unencumbered funds is realized not once, but twice. Two dividends of $400,000 each are issued to 56 counties for policy year 1995. It marks the 10th and 11th dividends issued in nine years. Nearly $6 million has now been returned to counties. NIRMA continues to be an attractive account for insurance underwriters due to its consistency, financial stability, and steady growth. With the addition of three counties between January and September, the NIRMA membership now stands at an impressive 68, or 73 percent of all Nebraska counties. Overall, insurance market conditions give no indication of softening and NIRMA experiences an increase of more than 41 percent in its excess insurance costs. Due to considerable efforts on the part of NIRMA, its broker, and insurance partners, the increase is still substantially less than the current norm across the country. Members see an average 13.4 percent increase as a result, well below what many other public entities across the nation are encountering. As the year draws to a close, the member fund balance stands at $14.9 million, interest earned since 1988 surpasses $11.5 million, and total assets exceed $25 million. The NIRMA Board of Directors participates in an in-depth, three-day strategic planning meeting and formulates a progressive blueprint for the future. As of December 31, each member county approves a resolution to recommit for another three years, keeping intact the distinction of a member never having left NIRMA.
NIRMA observes its 15th anniversary, and in conjunction publishes a commemorative annual report which shares a comprehensive look back at the pool’s dynamic history. A $1 million dividend is issued to 65 member counties, bringing the cumulative total that has been returned to counties to $6.7 million. The Interchange newsletter debuts, providing a bimonthly exchange of information between NIRMA and its member counties. The Board of Directors adopts a new mission statement which more accurately describes the present-day role of NIRMA. Public officials liability, errors and omissions and employment practices liability coverages are now offered by NIRMA, as opposed to an outside carrier. NIRMA joins County Reinsurance, Limited (CRL), a member-owned captive insurance company which operates essentially as a pool for pools to provide insurance coverage. A toll-free employment law and human resources help line is established for the exclusive use of NIRMA members. With the addition of four counties during the year, total membership now stands at 72.
NIRMA responds quickly when it becomes apparent that Congress would not delay implementation of sweeping changes in the U.S. Department of Labor’s wage and hour regulations and provides member county officials and supervisory personnel with an extensive telephonic conference presentation detailing changes in overtime pay, exempt status classifications, minimum wage requirements, and other modifications that will affect public employers. Nearly 300 people from 60 member counties listen in. New ground is broken when, for the first time in the pool’s 17-year history, a comprehensive membership survey is conducted to determine members’ confidence level in the program, evaluate the services being provided, and gain valuable input to help shape the future and direction of NIRMA. The pool welcomes two new counties, making it the third consecutive year two or more counties have joined the pool, and bringing the total membership to 74, or 80 percent of all Nebraska counties.
In a year highlighted by many new chapters, possibly the most positive and exciting is the investment NIRMA makes in its future with the purchase of and move to expanded office space in downtown Lincoln’s historic CenterStone Building. The consecutive years of multiple-county growth extends to four with the addition of two more counties, and total membership in NIRMA stands at 76. The member fund balance reaches an all-time high of $17.9 million, with dividends returned to member counties surpassing a cumulative total of $7.7 million. Year-end brings another new chapter, when each of the 72 counties eligible to extend their participation in NIRMA for another three years do so by unanimous votes of the respective Boards of Commissioners or Supervisors. It marks the sixth consecutive time since 1988 that all member counties recommit to and reaffirm their faith and belief in pooling and the NIRMA program.
For the ninth consecutive year a dividend is issued at NIRMA’s Annual Conference in February, this time to 72 counties in the collective amount of $1 million. Membership grows yet again with the addition of the pool’s 77th county. To keep county officials and supervisory personnel apprised of important human resources and employment law considerations without having to leave their courthouses, NIRMA conducts a series of quarterly telephonic conferences for in excess of 1,200 participants. Plans are also announced for the creation of NIRMA University through which one component is a pilot program introducing 11 member counties to the convenience and ease of online training courses that address multiple human resources, management, safety and law enforcement topics.
Sixty-seven counties share in a $500,000 dividend NIRMA issues at its February conference. Also at the conference, NIRMA introduces its new County Safety Committee Handbook, a handy reference guide published to provide guidance and assistance to committee members in meeting their responsibilities. A totally revamped and interactive NIRMA Web site makes its debut, and members may now file claim reports and update their property schedules online. The Nebraska Department of Insurance returns a very positive audit report following its statutorily-required examination of NIRMA and NIRMA II operations. At the same time, an independent claims audit conducted on behalf of County Reinsurance, Limited (CRL), a national pool in which NIRMA is a member and through which it purchases excess and reinsurance coverage, produces an equally complimentary report. Nearly 300 officials and supervisory personnel from 67 of our member counties attend one of five regional employment practices seminars NIRMA conducts across the state. At each seminar NIRMA issues its revised and expanded Guide to Creating a Personnel System for Nebraska Counties. Following a successful pilot program, the NIRMA University online continuing education program continues with 12-month curriculum developed exclusively for county law enforcement and corrections personnel. More than one-quarter of NIRMA member counties see their premium contribution levels decrease beyond the decreases of the prior year, and, overall, the member premium contribution level was held to an average 1.92 average increase. For the sixth year in a row NIRMA sees its membership increase with the addition of one new county, bringing the total membership to 78. The year ends with the Member Fund Balance, or the equity counties have in NIRMA and NIRMA II, at $21.2 million.
It is a year to reflect, as NIRMA observes its 20th anniversary with a series of special events throughout the year. It begins with the issuance of a $788,448 dividend to 70 eligible members. The significance of this dividend, notwithstanding that it marks the 13th consecutive year for such a monetary return, is the fact it increases to $10 million the total amount that NIRMA has been able to return to members since 1991. While 2008 will long be remembered as the year of the country’s financial melt down, prompting some to suggest current economic conditions closely mirror those of the Great Depression era, NIRMA is able to provide some relief of its own when 85 percent of its members see their premium contributions decrease from the previous year. In fact, NIRMA actually collects less in total than it did in each of the two previous years. Membership continues to grow as two more area agencies on aging vote to become part of the program. With these additions, combined with the addition of three area agencies on aging in 2007, the membership now stands at 83. The anniversary celebration draws to a close on a yet another high note as the members’ year-end equity in the Member Fund Balance reaches an all-time high of $22.4 million and the NIRMA Board of Directors announces plans to issue a $1.5 million dividend in the year ahead.
For the seventh consecutive time in NIRMA’s 21-year history, 100 percent of the membership is committed to participate in the program for another three-year period. This serves as a testament to the confidence members have in NIRMA to provide the best insurance coverages at the most affordable price. Another streak continues as NIRMA issues a dividend for the 14th consecutive year, this time in the amount of $1,498,752 that is shared by 76 eligible member counties. It is the largest dividend in program history and increases the total amount returned to members to nearly $11.5 million. The library of reference manuals published by NIRMA for its members grows again as the Guide to the MUTCD for Nebraska Counties is distributed in conjunction with five regional road signing seminars NIRMA presents in April. Interest in the NIRMA ASSIST program continues to grow as 37 member counties submit a total of 65 applications seeking in excess of $222,000 in grant funding assistance to apply toward a variety of safety-related projects and purchases, far more than NIRMA could fully fund. A total of $95,105 is approved, bringing to $280,000 the total amount NIRMA has awarded since the program was created in 2008.
To assist member county road departments prepare for their annual construction season, a series of 32 one-day workshops are presented across the state to address and provide guidance on a broad range of construction, road and bridge maintenance, and department safety topics. More than 1,050 road department employees and county board members attend. Despite the country’s ongoing economic struggles, NIRMA’s average premium contribution is limited on average to a 2 percent increase, with a number of members actually receiving pricing decreases. For the 15th consecutive year and the 20th time since 1991, NIRMA returns member funds that are no longer needed to pay claims. This latest monetary return is in the form of a $750,000 dividend shared by 77 members. It increases the total amount that NIRMA has now returned to nearly $12.25 million. The reference library published for members continues to grow, this time with the addition of the Sheriff’s Office Model Policies and Procedures Manual. Forty-five members submit a total of 73 applications for ASSIST grants and funding assistance for a variety of loss prevention and safety projects or equipment purchases. Both are new records and the total amount requested substantially exceeds the amount appropriated. A total of $84,743 is approved, increasing to $363,946 the amount NIRMA has now awarded members since the ASSIST program began in 2008.
In response to requests from member county highway departments, NIRMA presents four regional crane operator workshops which provides two days of comprehensive classroom and hands-on training for 60 road department employees. In excess of 325 county and area agency on aging officials and supervisory personnel attend NIRMA’s latest personnel seminars presented at five locations across the state. Each seminar contained nearly six hours of instruction and helpful information. As part of the regional seminars, NIRMA reissues a revised and expanded Guide to Creating a Personnel System for Nebraska Counties. Higher losses incurred by members results in an average 6.27 percent increase in the premium contribution levels. Despite the overall increase, nearly one in five members actually received decrease due to their favorable claims experience. For the 16th consecutive year and the 21st time since 1991, NIRMA returns funds to members, this time in the form of a $600,000 dividend distributed among 79 eligible members during the NIRMA’s Self Defense for County Officials Conference in October. Also at the conference, a new Insurance and Risk Transfer Manual is introduced and distributed. An additional $393,864 in dividends is made available to members who meet the dividend eligibility requirements and who adopt a resolution extending their participation in NIRMA for another three-year period. NIRMA introduces a new Interact portal on its website through which members can quickly and easily electronically submit data and information to the NIRMA office and access their coverage and loss information.
The year began with a resounding display of members’ confidence in NIRMA as 100 percent of members who were eligible to recommit to participate in the program for another three-year period did so. It marked the eighth consecutive time since NIRMA was created in 1988 that all eligible members recommitted. NIRMA presents five regional seminars across the state to address various liability exposures associated with county roads and bridges. At each seminar NIRMA issues its updated and expanded Guide to the MUTCD for Nebraska Counties and its new comprehensive Road Department Manual, which addresses all facets of county road department operations. A new process is used to streamline the 2012-2013 policy year renewal. Known as the Interact members-only portal located on the NIRMA website, it will serve as the primary means for contact persons to electronically communicate with NIRMA, access their property schedules and insurance coverage document, and submit renewal information and claim forms. For the 17th consecutive year and 22nd time since 1991, NIRMA issues a dividend, this time in the amount of $640,156 to 80 members. It increases to nearly $13.9 million the amount NIRMA has returned to members. The NIRMA Loss Prevention and Safety Committee awards $84,991 in ASSIST Program grant funding to help members achieve safety initiatives or purchase safety-related equipment. NIRMA has now awarded a total of $535,532 in ASSIST grants since 2008.
January 7 begins a year-long observance of NIRMA’s Silver Anniversary. Through the Interchange magazine and a number of events and other special activities, 25 years of significant highlights and milestones are recounted. It is only fitting that during NIRMA’s 25th anniversary year a special 2020 Vision Committee begins meeting to discuss a broad range of ideas and issues related to the program as it proceeds toward the year 2020 and beyond. Nearly 300 county officials and supervisory personnel attend NIRMA’s spring seminar series that focuses on employment practices. The annual renewal benefits from projections of fewer losses and price quotations lower than anticipated, resulting in over one-quarter of the membership receiving a reduction in their contribution level for the 2013-2014 policy year. In conjunction with NIRMA’s annual Self Defense for County Officials Conference, a special luncheon is presented to pay tribute to the program’s 25th anniversary, including recollections shared by several key individuals responsible for bringing risk management pooling to Nebraska. The conference also produces a milestone of its own when a $1.1 million dividend is distributed among 82 eligible members during the annual association business meeting. Not only does it mark the 24th time and 18th consecutive year that unexpended funds have been returned, it also increases to $15 million the total amount NIRMA has returned to members since 1991. The year draws to a close with NIRMA’s membership standing at 86 with the addition of Harlan County, which became the 80th county member in September, and with the Loss Prevention and Safety Committee awarding $90,194 in ASSIST Program grant funds to 38 members.
NIRMA rebrands its annual April seminars under a new moniker – Spotlight Seminar Series – to call attention to the diverse subject matters that are addressed each year. For 2014, the five seminars focused on emergency planning and response procedures for local governments. In what is considered a first in Nebraska history, members of the NIRMA Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees for the All Lines Interlocal Cooperative Aggregate Pool (ALICAP), a self insurance pool for the state’s school boards and educational service unites, meet to discuss commonalities of the two pools and how the two can work together to enhance governmental pooling in Nebraska. A series of violent storms tear across Nebraska in May and June causing widespread damage. As a result, NIRMA experiences its most costly property damage event in the pool’s 26-year history with an estimated $4.6 million in losses. NIRMA conducts an online membership survey and finds that members continue to have a high level of satisfaction and confidence in the program. For the 19th consecutive year and the 25th and 26th times in program history, NIRMA issues two dividends totaling $998,827. This increases to nearly $16 million the amount NIRMA has returned to members since 1991. Members of the Loss Prevention and Safety Committee award $79,038 in ASSIST grant funds to members to help defray the cost of their health and safety initiatives and to make safety equipment purchases. The year comes to a close on positive note and another successful recommitment process is completed.
NIRMA ushers in the year by welcoming the Region 26 Council as its 87th member of the pool. Region 26 is a unique interlocal agency that provides E911 communications and emergency management services to residents in eight NIRMA member counties. This addition is another example of how NIRMA has evolved to include a broad range of county-related agencies within its membership. A bill introduced in the Nebraska Legislature at the request of NIRMA proposes to define in state statutes who should be considered an innocent third party when involved in a law enforcement vehicular pursuit. The proposal achieves a milestone when it advances out of the Judiciary Committee to the floor of the Legislature. In conjunction with its biennial Employment Practices Seminars, NIRMA issues a revised and expanded Guide to Creating a Personnel System for Nebraska Counties reference manual. In excess of 300 county highway department equipment operators benefit from a series of two-day classroom and hands-on training sessions developed and presented by NIRMA. Another positive financial year results in NIRMA’s Member Fund Balance surpassing the $30 million mark, prompting the Board of Directors to issue a $1 million dividend to 85 eligible members during the October conference. Following the conference, NIRMA utilizes the Internet to invite attendees to participate in a brief online survey soliciting their input about the event. Members of the Loss Prevention and Safety Committee approve $97,734 in ASSIST Program grant funds to help members with their safety initiatives.
The NIRMA Board of Directors sets in motion a year-long, in-depth analysis to the program’s technology systems and platforms, the long-term result of which will be to keep NIRMA at the forefront in how it communicates and effectively serves its membership in the 21s century. Board members also unanimously adopt a 2020 Vision Plan, an ambitious and comprehensive plan that culminates three years of work and pinpoints five specific long-term goals for the program and action steps for each. NIRMA’s membership increases to 91 with the addition of Hooker County, the Hooker County Agricultural Society, the Dakota County Public Safety Service Agency and the Thomas County Agricultural Society. For the second year in a row, nearly 60 percent of NIRMA members see a reduction in what they will pay for their insurance coverages for the upcoming policy year. The pools’ combined Member Fund Balance, or equity members have in the pools, surpasses the $30 million mark for the first time in the program’s 28-year history. This enables the NIRMA board to declare and issue a $1 million dividend to 85 members, marking the 21st consecutive year a dividend has been issued and the 10th time it is in the amount of $1 million or more. The year draws to a close with NIRMA’s Loss Prevention and Safety Committee awarding $123,047 in grant funds to be applied toward a variety of safety projects and initiatives submitted by a number of members. This 10th round of grants increases to $930,588 NIRMA has now invested in member loss prevention efforts since 2008.
NIRMA welcomes Madison County Commissioner Ron Schmidt to its 11-member Board of Directors. A new video produced by NIRMA debuts and will serve as an excellent educational tool to share an overview of risk management and self-insurance pooling and how it benefits members and taxpayers alike. NIRMA partners with several state and federal agencies to present a series of training programs that address engineering studies, natural disaster and wildfire response safety, and crane operations. An all-time record 411 county and agency officials and supervisory personnel attend NIRMA’s annual Spotlight Seminar Series, which this year addresses employment laws and practices. Following two consecutive years in which nearly 60 percent of NIRMA’s membership saw a reduction in the premium contribution levels, nearly 75 percent of members are informed they will be paying less for the 2017-2018 policy year. NIRMA/II’s combined Member Fund Balance reaches $33.5 million, the highest level in program history. The pools’ stellar financial picture prompts the Board of Directors to approve two separate dividends totaling $2 million, the largest financial return ever. These dividends increase to $20 million the total amount NIRMA has returned to members since 1991. The addition of two more county agricultural societies increases NIRMA’s membership to 93 – 81 counties and 12 county-related agencies. NIRMA conducts a series of seven informal lunches and dinners across the state as an expression of its appreciation of the membership’s loyalty and continued support. The Loss Prevention and Safety Committee awards a record $139,291 in ASSIST Program grant funds. Every NIRMA member who is eligible to extend its participation in the pools for another three-year period does so, marking the 10th consecutive time this has occurred.
It is a year of significance for NIRMA and its members as marks the 30th anniversary of the program. Adding an exclamation point to that milestone, for the 10th consecutive time the entire eligible membership is recommitted to participate in the pools for another three-year period. More than 50 percent of the membership will pay less for their insurance coverages during the 2018-19 policy year thanks in large part to significant reductions in property/liability and workers’ compensation anticipated losses, combined with a funding level that is the lowest since the 2011-12 policy year. NIRMA relocates its offices to southeast Lincoln, a move that culminates years of study and will now provide ample space for existing operational needs and will adequately accommodate future growth of the program. In recognition of its 30th anniversary, NIRMA pays tribute to Jack Mills and Jim Anderson, two of the key individuals credited with being the visionary driving forces behind the creation of NIRMA and NIRMA II. Each is presented a special Founders Award that highlights their respective efforts. For the 23rd consecutive year and the 31st time, NIRMA issues a dividend, this year in the amount of $1 million shared among 86 members. It increases to $21 million the total amount NIRMA has returned to members since 1991. Additional funds are then bestowed when members of the Loss Prevention and Safety Committee approve $83,613 in ASSIST Program grants, increasing to just over $1 million that has been invested in members’ safety initiatives in the past 10 years.
The year gets under way with five new members taking their seats on the NIRMA Board of Directors – Cass County Commissioner Jim Peterson, Hamilton County Commissioner Becky Richter, Morrill County Clerk Kathy Brandt, Saline County Board Assistant/HR/IT Director Tim McDermott and Sarpy County Chief Deputy Attorney Bonnie Moore. The year also brought the passing of three individuals who played critical roles in the creation, development and ongoing success of NIRMA – Jack Mills, Jim Anderson and Dean Lux. Winter Storm Ulmer in March, called the worst natural disaster in Nebraska history, caused widespread flooding and extensive damage in 71 NIRMA member counties. NIRMA updates and reissues two of its popular reference manuals – the Guide to Creating a Personnel System for Nebraska Counties and the Model Safety Manual. For the fifth consecutive year, a number of members see a decrease in what they will pay for they insurance coverages for the policy year that will cover July 1 through June 30, 2020. NIRMA continues to invest in its membership as a $1 million dividend is issued in October and $135,225 in grant funds are awarded through the ASSIST Program in December.
The normalcy that typically begins a new year quickly was replaced by months of uncertainty with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business operations would be continued, albeit in a somewhat different fashion. Before the onset of the coronavirus, members of the NIRMA Board of Directors, in what would be their only in-person meeting of the year, established the Jack D. Mills Legacy Scholarships at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska-Kearney to honor the man who was a driving force in creating NIRMA in 1988. NIRMA also was able to present two series of regional training programs in person. But, from March on, for the remainder of the year in-person meetings and training presentations were replaced by virtual formats through various electronic means. NIRMA members scaled back many of their operations, including limiting public access to courthouses, or temporarily closing them altogether, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. This, in turn, led to a reduction in exposures and the number of claims members reported throughout the year. Despite the crippling effects of the pandemic, it still was a good year. NIRMA’s membership grew by three, increasing the total to 105. NIRMA issued a dividend for the 25th consecutive year, this time $1.5 million, the second largest financial return in program history. More than $120,000 in ASSIST Program grant funds were awarded to members. And, to conclude the year, all eligible members recommitted to participate in the pools for another three years.
The COVID-19 pandemic dragged on throughout 2021 with new variants emerging. One sobering impact was that, according to the WHO, the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the pandemic (described as an “excess mortality” calculation) reached 14.9 million worldwide by the end of the year. Against this grim backdrop and mounting economic and supply chain challenges, the NIRMA program nevertheless made strides toward a return to a greater sense of normalcy. In May, the NIRMA Board of Directors convened for a meeting at the office for the first time in 450 days. While the NIRMA Spotlight Seminar series was delayed to August, it was carried out by Woods & Aitken attorneys Pam Bourne and Ashley Connell in person, followed by their launch of a new HR Roundtable virtual monthly meeting series exclusively for NIRMA members. And October brought a “Welcome Back” themed return to an in-person annual Self Defense for County Officials Conference in Kearney. There, NIRMA was able to again issue a dividend to its members for the 26th consecutive year, this time in the amount of $1 million. The year was also marked by transitions, including a change of two seats on the NIRMA board, the addition of one new agricultural society member, and the retirement of three longtime staff members whose roles were filled by candidates already serving the membership or the pools in other capacities. Capping off the year on a very positive note, the total grant awards to members from the NIRMA ASSIST program topped $1.5 million.
Inflationary pressures mounted and combined with severe claims experience, volatile financial markets, and other factors to make for a difficult financial year for the pools in 2022, yet the strong foundation and member fund balance wisely built up over time by the NIRMA Board of Directors ensured that the program could still achieve and operate seamlessly. Indeed, dividends were returned to members for the 27th consecutive year and the cumulative total amount of those reached the $25 million milestone. Early in the year, NIRMA zeroed in on two of the most current and pressing risks faced by its members—property damage and cyber claims. Loss Prevention staff rolled out training on an updated property inspection checklist. And led by experts in the field, NIRMA presented successful regional cyber security seminars in April, complemented by the publication of a Cyber Security Toolkit reference manual. This proved to be a natural segue way to joining with other stakeholders thereafter to form a County Network Security Cooperative. The annual Self Defense for County Officials Conference was presented at its new venue in Kearney, the Younes Conference Center North, featuring expansive space and amenities.