The Delaware County Board of Commissioners was confronted during its Oct. 29 session by residents who expressed their concerns over the county possibly taking over the management of Liberty Township’s emergency medical services (EMS).
Commissioner Barb Lewis requested that a future discussion be placed on the commissioners’ Monday agenda.
“I believe we all agree that EMS is a countywide issue that requires a countywide solution,” she said. “I’ve been trying for 10 years to get all the county’s experts, those that provide EMS, into the same room at the same time to resolve our EMS issues.”
In attendance during the Oct. 29 session was Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof, who spoke to commissioners about a task force.
Lewis said she asked Bennehoof to present his task force idea for studying and streamlining EMS services. She said she saw his idea as a common-sense approach.
On Monday, Bennehoof suggested the formation of what he called a blue ribbon task force comprised of county professionals, all the EMS chiefs in the county, EMS union leaders, county administrator, the county 911 director, the county business manager, and Powell Police Chief Gary Vest. He said he looked for the best business alignment possible and did not include elected officials because he “didn’t think it was appropriate.”
“Frankly, I don’t see a savings when I look through that Fitch report,” he said.
In July, county commissioners distributed a draft master plan to township trustees throughout Delaware County that offers four individual options for EMS, with one of the options being a countywide-run EMS department. The study and corresponding draft were provided by Fitch and Associates of Platte City, Missouri.
“This blue ribbon task force is exactly the right way to do this,” Lewis said. “If given the chance, I’m sure it will be successful.”
“The current system is not working or as well as it could or should,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell. “Our goal as commissioners needs to be what is the most efficient long-term solution. The frustration I have is this is a conversation that we have had over and over and over, and it still hasn’t been addressed.”
Merrell, a Liberty Township resident, recalled a moment when his wife needed EMS services.
“The current system is not working in its current format,” he said. “We had a situation at 4 o’clock in the morning that required an EMS run. It took 15-20 minutes for that run to get to my house to take care of my wife’s needs. Berlin (Township) is closer, Delaware County EMS is closer, and Orange (Township) is closer. We waited for Liberty (Township) to get there, because the structure of Liberty Township is such that many (EMS stations) are closer.”
Merrell said he wants what’s best for the county, but how to get there is the question.
“I couldn’t support this current committee proposal,” he said. “In this current format, I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t think the makeup will get us to where you want to take us.”
Commissioner Jeff Benton said he could not support the task force either as it stands.
“I don’t think this is the answer. It’s not what I would call a balanced task force,” he said. Nine of the 13 positions “would clearly support the position that Mr. Bennehoof talked about in the session. The other four are clearly county employees who are subject matter experts, but they know their bosses strongly disagree on this issue, and therefore, they are going to try to keep neutral.
“It’s a foregone conclusion in what the answer would be, and it would be supporting the position that was presented,” he added.
Genoa Township Trustee Karl Gebhardt said this would be the third study done in the nine years he has been a Genoa Township trustee. His recommendation was to pick a date to provide the information and implement the plan.
“I would ask that the following be considered as part of the blue ribbon panel and process if the decision is made to go forward,” he said. “The clear direction on the expected outcome and workings of the panel, including ways for gathering public input should be clearly established.”
Gebhardt said as an elected official, the decisions are not getting any easier to make.
“Change and compromise continue to give way to hardline polarized positions … but decisions still need to be made. Hopefully, the proposed panel will be the last time this issue needs to be studied so that the decisions will be made so we can move on to address the other issues facing our residents.”
Also present was Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline, who declined to make a comment at the time.
No decision concerning the possible creation of a task force was made by commissioners.
The commissioners’ Monday, Nov. 19 session can be seen online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDsggBIdV8s.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.