Fred Whelan never figured in the cost of insurance for the AMVETS Post 35 pancake breakfast at the Rotterdam Senior Center.
But that changed abruptly when the group started to finalize plans for the April fundraiser. Whelan was informed he’d need to produce proof of insurance before Post 35 could use the town-owned kitchen and dining hall.
“They didn’t specify any amount, just said we needed a certificate of insurance,” Whelan said Tuesday.
And the cheapest policy Whelan could track down for the five-hour breakfast cost $500. At that rate, he said, the fundraiser simply wouldn’t be worth it.
“We’d be lucky if we even make that much,” he said.
Many community groups that use the center and other town-owned buildings already have liability insurance, but others simply have no cause for seeking such coverage.
For instance, the roughly 400-member Rotterdam Senior Association has no liability coverage. Jack Shiely, the association’s president, said the seniors never thought to get such insurance for events they host at the center because they always figured they were covered by the town’s policy.
“Liability insurance? No,” he said. “We should be on a rider with their policy.”
But the town’s insurance carrier is suggesting otherwise. Town Attorney Kate McGuirl said the broker recently advised the town to make sure groups using town facilities have proper insurance coverage.
“The residents of the town of Rotterdam should not have to foot the bill for any group that exposes the town to liability through increased insurance rates resulting from claims, injury or property damage,” she said.
Eileen Langer-Smith, the senior center’s director, said she’s been requiring groups to show proof of insurance for months. She said she’s received no complaints from any of the organizations applying for use of the center.
“There haven’t been any issues,” she said.
But Town Board member Robert Godlewski said requiring groups to show proof of insurance is a large departure from past practice. He said requiring nonprofit and community groups to have insurance would pose a hardship on many of the smaller ones that can’t afford insurance to host an event that only lasts a few hours.
“It’s a town facility,” he said. “What the heck is the sense in having a town facility if the taxpayers of the community can’t use it?”
Godlewski also questioned why the issue is suddenly starting to surface. He only learned of the apparent change after it was brought to his attention by Whelan several weeks ago.
“For as long as I can remember, these groups have been using [the senior center] and they were not needing to have insurance,” he said.
Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi said the town has a $1 million insurance policy with a $5 million rider. He said a major incident at a community event hosted by an uninsured organization on town property — whether a personal injury accident or damage to a building — could quickly burn through this coverage.
“Our insurance company makes it very clear in our coverage that if we’re going to let other people use our facilities, they’re going to have to have an insurance rider,” he said. “It makes a certain amount of common sense to make sure people are insured.”
For Post 35, the requirement means they’ll seek another place to host the pancake breakfast. Whelan said a nearby church may suffice.
“We’ll figure out a way,” he said.