In an emotionally charged discussion Thursday, Liberty Township residents asked the Delaware County Board of Commissioners to rescind the county’s proposal to take over the township’s emergency medical services (EMS).
Commissioners Gary Merrell and Jeff Benton walked away, leaving the proposal on the table after their regularly scheduled meeting when neither would second a motion made by Commissioner Barb Lewis to rescind the original resolution sending the proposal to the Liberty Township Board of Trustees.
Lewis also asked for a second to a motion to form a task force to study the EMS situation, but she did not receive one from Merrell or Benton.
After an executive session Monday, commissioners took action, voting 2-1 to pass a resolution authorizing the county administrator to present the county’s EMS proposal to Liberty Township’s board of trustees.
Benton brought forth the motion on Monday for a resolution to move forward with the proposal, which was seconded by Merrell. Both then approved the resolution, setting the proposal in motion, while Lewis adamantly opposed it.
Sue Braden, a Liberty Township resident who was sitting in the front row Thursday, pointed out to Merrell that he was quick to second Benton’s motion on Monday to send the proposal to the trustees, but not to second either of Lewis’ motions, which would slow down the process of the county taking over the township’s EMS.
According to Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn, Township Administrator Matt Huffman received the proposal Wednesday from Mike Frommer, Delaware County administrator, who sent it on to all the trustees.
Lewis said the proposal should be withdrawn until a task force could be formed, because if Liberty approves the proposal, 15 to 18 cross-trained fire/paramedics would be laid off.
“The problem is once that decision is made, under the law, we in Delaware County are obligated to provide EMS service to Liberty Township,” she said. “If Liberty passes this Monday night … you’re going to lose your cross-trained EMS.”
All three township trustees attended the Thursday meeting, but only one formally spoke to the commissioners in an official capacity.
“I would like to start my time with a question for Commissioner Lewis,” said Melanie Leneghan, Liberty Township trustee. “What is it about the Delaware County EMS service that makes it inferior to Liberty Township EMS service? … I have not been provided any factual information on how Delaware County EMS is inferior to any other EMS service in the county, but rather the contrary. But most importantly, if Delaware County EMS, which is the only EMS provider in 13 of the 18 townships … is less qualified to deliver EMS services than Liberty Township EMS, why haven’t you done something about it to improve it.”
Leneghan also added, “I’m told that you have never had a meeting with Chief (Mike) Schuiling, the Delaware County EMS chief.”
Schuiling, however, said Thursday he had met with Lewis on three separate occasions.
Leneghan said she sees partnering with the county EMS as a “win-win” with “opportunities for improved service levels” for both the county and Liberty Township.
Frommer asked Schuiling to attend the meeting to provide some answers about the county EMS.
“I would like to address some concerns that I have with some misdirection, miscommunication that I have with various things that have been stated,” Schuiling said. “My number one job is to ensure first and foremost that the citizens and taxpayers in this county that the EMS that is being provided to them is 100 percent above board.”
Schuiling went on to present several of the county EMS awards, accolades, and certifications from nationally recognized EMS and ambulance associations as a way to establish his statement of “100 percent above board.” He then fielded questions from the Liberty Township residents.
One of those many questions came from Shyra Eichhorn, Liberty Township trustee, who said she didn’t challenge the level of care the county EMS provides versus what the township’s EMS would provide. She said she challenged the national standard of only two paramedics per ambulance over Liberty Township’s standard of three per ambulance.
“My residents want three medics in the truck,” she said. “Are you telling me that my residents should accept two medics instead of three?”
Schuiling told Eichhorn that “a two-paramedic ambulance offers the highest level of efficiency to the constituents of Delaware County.” He also assured her that all Delaware County residents would receive the same level of care from his department.
Merrell told the gathering that the board of commissioners were asked by the trustees to give them a proposal of “what if.”
“We did that,” he said. “Now Liberty Township will have to take a look at it. They may say they don’t want to go in that direction. They may say it has merit but with some changes. They may look at it and say it looks perfect.”
Braden, who was standing at the lectern at the time said, “they will,” to Merrell’s last comment of the board accepting the current proposal as is.
Merrell then said it would come back to the commissioners for their evaluation on if it’s in the best interest of the county and the township.
“We’re far from getting that resolved,” he said.
Frommer explained what the chain of events would be like if the trustees accepted the proposal. He went back to July when the county sent out the Fitch report to every township to get feedback.
Frommer said the county was invited to present the Fitch report, and at that time, two of the trustees asked for a proposal. He said he went back to the county to meet with Schuiling and the commissioners for input.
“The proposal that was submitted was basically a business point, bullet point, on what the service would look like if Liberty Township wanted the county to provide (EMS),” he said. “If they approve that proposal, then there would be contract service negotiations agreements … dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”
Frommer mentioned the county did a similar agreement with Sunbury for sewer, and that it took a year to complete.
Tom Homan, Delaware City manager, also attended the Thursday meeting. He said there is no shortage of studies on how to approach the subject of funding the multiple EMS services in the county.
“I really think, in my opinion, it underscores a funding system that was established back when the county was much more rural,” he said. “Now you have urbanizing townships who are providing essentially the same types of services (as the county), and how do you graph a countywide system onto that without lowering the level of service.”
Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline did not take the opportunity to speak Thursday.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.