Liberty Township residents stood before the Delaware County Board of Commissioners Monday morning to express their concerns over the county possibly taking over the township’s emergency medical services (EMS).
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.
Michael Frommer, Delaware County administrator, presented the plan to the Liberty Township Board of Trustees during its Oct. 1 regular meeting. Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan said it appears the commissioners’ ultimate goal is to make Delaware County EMS a countywide service.
“In speaking with some people at the county, they think this is great opportunity to do that (countywide EMS),” she said during the Oct. 1 meeting. “I think as a trustee that it would be completely irresponsible of us to not hear what that looks like … and see what kind of savings that represents.”
William Eddy, a member of the Pro Powell PAC, told commissioners Monday that a similar thing had been tried before with replacing the Powell Police Department with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office. The city council member who pushed for the change was not re-elected to office.
“I can not believe what a local politician will go through for political gain,” he said. “It cost $1.1 million for the county to take over the township’s EMS.”
City of Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof stood before the county commissioners Monday and announced that he was not there in his capacity as mayor, but as a resident of Powell and Liberty Township. He said he judged the study by Fitch and Associates of Platte City, Missouri, as a “flawed output report.”
“I’m not here to cast dispersions on anyone or any organization,” he said. “But I think this report from the Fitch Associates paints a very clear picture of the shortcomings with the countywide EMS proposal.”
As a way of history, Bennehoof said, “The Liberty Township Fire Department was formed in 1947, and its EMS was established in 1952, a full 20 years prior to the formation of the Delaware County EMS.”
Bennehoof said he has talked with numerous residents and not one of them were upset with the service of the Liberty Township Fire Department. He told the commissioners that Powell proper has nonconformity borders, making every resident of the city a Liberty Township resident as well.
“Therefore, they have a stake in this,” he said. “Powell residents have consistently, over the last four surveys, rated Liberty Township Fire Department and EMS very highly.”
Bennehoof added that from the surveys, Powell officials have learned that the residents’ priorities are fast response times, training, and certifications of the personnel.
“In a catastrophic event, the cross-trained staff of the Liberty Township Fire Department and EMS are capable of handling significant complex situations,” he said.
Bennehoof said the Liberty Township Fire Department is known for superior service.
Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn approached the commissioners as well on Monday, telling them she was not there representing the board, but as a single trustee supporting her constituents. She said that in November 2017, the residents overwhelmingly passed a local renewal levy for fire/EMS by 75 percent.
“If we are to change our service model, there needs to be significant financial savings or have a quality service provided to our residents,” she said. “According to the current proposal draft, we will not accomplish either of those tasks.”
Eichhorn said in the draft proposal, if the county took over the township EMS, medics would be staffed with two paramedics.
“We usually staff with three,” she said. “That’s a downgrade.”
Eichhorn pointed out that the same draft proposal states the county would not have to spend money to hire additional personnel to staff EMS.
“That means you will be pulling paramedics from your current team to move to Liberty Township,” she said. “That means you’re thinning your staff, which is a downgrade for those that currently rely on your services today.”
Eichhorn added if the county takes over the EMS, the township will still need to “run and fund a fire department.” She said the proposal states that the township will still have to provide support for the county medics.
“That is a downgrade in service because our fire trucks would have to go on every single run to play backup for your staff,” she said. “It will impact our response times and not in a positive manner.”
Eichhorn told the commissioners that the township’s fire department “meets all 50 points recognized by the Ambulance Summary Benchmark System,” but the Fitch study shows that “the county EMS meets only 14.”
“Liberty Township already hits all 50, that would be another downgrade,” she said.
Eichhorn told the commissioners that for “$10.57 per resident,” the township provides not only EMS, but also cross-trains firefighters for all types of rescues.
Commissioner Barb Lewis saw the issue as being rushed because the impact to the county and the township are unknown. She said the township would have to let go of numerous cross-trained fire/EMS personnel.
“It is a slap in the face to Liberty Township residents,” she said.
Commissioner Gary Merrell, who lives in Liberty Township, pointed out that the township asked the county to look into the cost of the transfer. He also pointed out that there was no contract in place to do so.
“There are no villains here,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with asking a question. It’s just as important to me as you.”
Merrell said everyone deserves the same level of care in the county.
The commissioners took no action on the matter.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.