After an executive session Monday, the Delaware County Board of Commissioners took action on passing a resolution authorizing the county administrator to present an Emergency Medical Services proposal to the Liberty Township Board of Trustees. Commissioners Gary Merrell and Jeff Benton voted to approve the resolution, while Commissioner Barb Lewis opposed it.
In a special meeting Tuesday morning, the Liberty Township Board of Trustees faced a small conference room full of upset constituents who wanted to make sure the township’s cross-trained fire/paramedic model doesn’t change.
“My mom always told me if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Greg Russell, a township resident, in regard to letting the county possibly take over of the township’s EMS. “I’m pretty particular about my health care, and I like saving a buck as much as anybody, but in this case, I’m pretty happy with what we got.”
During the special meeting, Trustee Shyra Eichhorn spoke out against the county taking over the township’s EMS.
“It’s unfortunate that aggregation can go on the ballot but something of this magnitude won’t,” Eichhorn said. “It’s important that everyone continues to make their voice heard.”
Trustee Melanie Leneghan said she didn’t know about the commissioners taking action to move forward with the proposal until she had received a phone call about it.
“I did not ask for that to occur yesterday, so I don’t know what all this underlying chatter is,” she said. “The reason they were asked for a proposal is they came in, presented a presentation, and we said great, show us a proposal.
“We’re never going to pass a resolution like that without having public meetings,” Leneghan said. “And we’re never going to change our EMS from one system to another without having a discussion. I don’t know where the fear-mongering has been established, but clearly, it has. I apologize that you’re all here for no reason.”
Considering Tuesday’s gathering was a special meeting of the trustees, Township Administrator Matt Huffman said the trustees had to stick to the items on the agenda and could not comment on anything outside of those items. It didn’t stop the residents from engaging the trustees in conversations concerning the forthcoming proposal.
“We had two commissioners pass something that wasn’t on the agenda, after an executive session, with Commissioner Jeff Benton having several pages of notes,” Eichhorn told the residents. “They literally passed a nonexistent document yesterday on something that wasn’t on the agenda. To me, that doesn’t sound right. It sounds like people should be definitely concerned.”
Eichhorn recommended that residents meet with each trustee on the matter to get their viewpoints.
“Keep paying attention, because this is very real,” she said. “I’m not sure why this is being pushed down everyone’s throat.”
Nico Franano, a resident of the township who addressed the trustees on behalf of his homeowners association, said he strongly supports the “fire/EMS-based service that the township now enjoys.”
“I would say that I, along with most residents in the township, are pleased with the service as it is now,” he said. “It’s been running effectively. It’s been giving efficient run times, quality services, and it’s been keeping our homeowner insurance low because of its high rating.”
Franano said the staffing of an ambulance is three paramedics per unit, per shift. He said according to the Fitch report from Delaware County, the standard will be two paramedics per unit, per shift.
“That is the loss of one caregiver per unit, and it will increase run times and potentially impact care,” he said. “I would note that our community gave an overwhelming endorsement to the current service with the 2017 renewal levy. Over 74 percent of our community supported it. I think that’s a ringing endorsement to leave a strong and protective EMS in place as it is.”
The renewal levy passed by voters in 2017 supports the township’s cross-trained fire/paramedic department.
Township resident Christopher Shearer asked, “Why is it an issue?”
“No one wants to mess around with our fire department,” he said. “We’re perfectly happy with the fire services we are getting. These guys are the best. That’s why local residents are up in arms over this.”
Shearer asked why the trustees would consider looking at making the change.
“Because it could represent a savings of approximately $4 million a year in taxpayer dollars,” Leneghan told him.
“I would definitely argue that, because (Leneghan) is not putting in all the facts,” Eichhorn said. “This has been a plan forever that is being put into place and shoved down the residents’ throats.”
Leneghan then adjourned the meeting and told Eichhorn she was “out of control.”
“No Melanie, you’re out of control and everybody knows it,” Eichhorn fired back at Leneghan.
However, the meeting continued because there were other residents who still wanted to make public comment during the meeting.
Marie Folmer, a resident with a child who has special needs, said the thing that keeps her “working and paying taxes is the medical team” of paramedics in the fire department “keeping her (child) alive every year.”
“Don’t tell me that two or three (medics to an ambulance) doesn’t make a difference because it does,” she told the trustees. “I’ve been in the squad. I’ve witnessed it, and I’m sure you have not. So don’t use the word fear-mongering … it’s not the case.”
“Ma’am, I won’t vote for anything that will reduce your service level,” Leneghan told her.
“I don’t believe that anymore,” Folmer told Leneghan. “I don’t think the community believes that anymore.”
According to Lewis, she asked that the EMS topic be placed on the commissioners’ Thursday, Nov. 29 agenda, because she didn’t like Benton’s method to push forward with the proposal to the township.
Commissioners meet at 9:30 a.m. in their hearing room inside the Commissioners Building at 101 N. Sandusky St., Delaware.
In July, the county commissioners distributed a draft master plan to township trustees throughout Delaware County offering 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.
During the commissioners’ Oct. 29 session, trustees and administrators of other townships stood in solidarity with Liberty Township residents against the county taking over the management of the township’s EMS. By the end of the session, those in attendance walked away with an understanding that a task force would be formed to study the matter before moving forward with a proposal.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.