Officials representing five political subdivisions have called for a study of the way in which Delaware County uses a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund emergency medical services.
A coalition of officials in the city of Delaware and Orange, Liberty, Genoa and Harlem townships formally asked Delaware County commissioners Monday to take on a study that could drastically alter the way emergency medical services are provided and funded.
“We want to do what is best for the county as a whole,” said Orange Township Trustee Rob Quigley, who has led the effort.
Whether the study will be conducted will likely come down to Commissioner Gary Merrell, who said he will not support the effort unless both sides agree that its findings are binding and will be implemented.
“It looks like my vote is going to be the one that makes the difference here,” he said.
Commissioner Barb Lewis supported a similar effort in the past as a Genoa Township trustee. She indicated Monday that she would be interested in forming a working group to lay out parameters of a study.
Commissioner Ken O’Brien has been adamantly opposed to changing the system, which relies on a countywide emergency medical service system supplemented by fire-based EMS services in townships, cities and villages. He has said the system works fine in its current form and any changes could negatively impact those living in the northern, more rural areas of the county.
He said that if a study is conducted to find the best and most efficient model of service, advocates of it may not be pleased with the final results.
“You’re going to find that they are going to recommend a countywide fire department and a countywide EMS,” he said.
Chief Mike Schuiling, who leads Delaware County Emergency Medical Services, said he also believes any potential changes would be to the detriment of the citizens his organization serves. Paramedics who work in his department are trained exclusively to handle medical emergencies, while firefighters are cross-trained in two fields.
“We believe the third service model is the best,” he said. “We are experts in our field.”
Previous efforts have consisted of township and city officials advocating for the county to share a larger portion of the nearly $20 million it collects from the 0.5 percent sales tax each year to reimburse fire-based EMS departments for their services. Under a proposal presented in 2013, the county would pay each township $600,000 for each ambulance it operates.
Currently, just Liberty Township and the city of Delaware receive a portion of the sales tax revenue. Those two jurisdictions provided firefighter-based EMS when the countywide sales tax was approved in the early 1970s. Since then, the other entities have added their own firefighter-based EMS through voter-approved levies.
“It is about the money,” said Harlem Township Trustee Jerry Paul. “It’s about taxpayer money.”
Genoa Township Trustee Rick Carfagna said that taxpayer money has not been used wisely in regard to emergency medical services. A recently built EMS station in the township is located within three miles of three fire-based EMS stations, he said.
“There’s got to be a better way to coordinate these systems,” he said.
Merrell said a decision on a study will likely come in the next several weeks.
“We didn’t get here overnight, so we’re not going to get through this in two or three weeks,” he said.