Liberty Township Hall on Monday evening overflowed with residents wearing bright red shirts with the following message printed on the back: “Don’t play politics with our safety.”
According to organizers, approximately 15,000 people either attended in person or watched via Facebook Live the regularly scheduled Monday Liberty Township Board of Trustees meeting.
Residents in opposition to turning over the township’s emergency medical services (EMS) to Delaware County EMS urged trustees to keep control of the service.
“I would just like to say why it’s being rushed,” Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said. “There is an election coming up in 2019 that could quite possibly change the dynamics of this board and who has the majority of the control.”
Once residents had spoken, Eichhorn mentioned that the board did not hear from one person in favor of turning the township’s EMS over to the county.
“In most cases, it comes down to the money, certainly this is not a case it should come down to the money,” she said. “I think there are a lot of people who have not been consulted on this.”
Eichhorn then made two different motions on resolutions to slow the process of the proposal going to a vote.
In a moment of deja vu, trustees Melanie Leneghan and Mike Gemperline remained silent, refusing to second the motions.
During the Nov. 29 Delaware County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners Gary Merrell and Jeff Benton would not second a motion from Commissioner Barb Lewis to rescind the resolution that sent the proposal to Liberty Township trustees.
When Gemperline refused to second Eichhorn’s motion, residents called him a liar and began calling for his resignation, citing he was not keeping his campaign promises to keep EMS.
During the discussion, Battalion Chief William “Bill” Piwtorak, Liberty Township Fire Department, approached the lectern to clarify comments that he said had been stated incorrectly by Leneghan.
“One — it was not a vote (by) the county (voters), it was (a vote by) the commissioners,” he said. Leneghan had said that the voters of Delaware County approved the one half of one percent sales tax partially used to fund the county EMS.
According to Delaware County Auditor George Kaitsa, as of Friday, Nov. 30, the county has collected $22.1 million this year from the o.5 percent permissive tax resolution signed by commissioners on Nov. 15, 1971, as an “Emergency for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety,” as stated in the resolution.
“Number two — you said there is no EMS, that we count on Delaware County when we go to a house fire,” Piwtorak told Leneghan. “That is not true. Everybody is a paramedic. When everybody goes (to a fire), there are 13 paramedics there. We are going to treat our own guys.”
Piwtorak said that Delaware County EMS “come in non-emergency” situations.
“The first 10 minutes is the most critical,” he said. “We’re going to take care of our people.”
Piwtorak then made his final statement to Leneghan.
“You said that Delaware County is the primary EMS provider of Liberty Township,” he said. “I bill the county every month and quarterly, and in that quarter, there’s maybe six times that Delaware County has been involved with or part of an EMS run and only one time of that they actually do the transport. We are the primary provider.”
Piwtorak received a round of applause from residents following his comments.
Delaware County EMS Chief Michael Schuiling complimented the Liberty Township Fire/EMS Department as being “consummate professionals.”
“This township is very fortunate to have the service it does have,” he said. Speaking for himself and the county commissioners, they were “not out to take away anyone’s job.”
“To say that Delaware County EMS is going to decrease the level of service because we are operating two paramedic ambulances is not necessarily the case,” he said. “We are instituting other response dynamics to fill in those voids, because certainly, I’m not going to stand here and tell you that three is less than two and two is greater than three. That’s ridiculous.”
Schuiling said his department is looking at other models available, and the opportunities between the county EMS and Liberty Township.
“There are many issues that are because of the evaluation of the three proprietary systems that exist in Delaware County,” he said. “1971 is absolutely correct that the board of commissioners voted for the permissive sales tax to fund the county government. We’re very fortunate that it exists in this county, and to this day, able to have the systems we have here that don’t exist in most of Ohio.”
Schuiling said there are many inefficiencies in the county system as it continues to grow.
“What our goal is, is to fill in those voids and gaps so we can continue to work together,” he said. “If that means we bag any of the ambulances at any of the stations, that’s what we do. I don’t think necessarily that’s what we need to do, but there are other things that we need to be doing to work together so we can get to where we need to be.”
Dr. Warren Yamarick, the township fire department’s medical director, gave his thoughts on a two-paramedic ambulance.
“It was a joke for you to say that a two-man medic would be equal to or better than a three-man medic,” he told Leneghan. “We are a team of firefighters and EMS, a three-man medic is a hell of a lot better than a two-man medic.
“As medical director, I bet I can talk to the medical director of Delaware County and we can have that conversation and he would side with me,” he said “How we provide it in Liberty Township has been the lead medic and service (in the county), and you’re about to take it away and go to a lower service.”
Yamarick said the trustees have never reached out to him on the matter of switching to the county service.
During the regular scheduled business portion of the meeting, Leneghan tabled a resolution that would have appointed Yamarick to continue as medical director in 2019 as per the township’s statutory obligation under Ohio Revised Code. She also tabled a resolution to hire an additional part-time firefighter/paramedic.
Leneghan wanted to correct what she saw as an inaccurate statement from a resident who shouted out, “You can’t have a $4 million tax break without a degradation in service.”
“Well, yes you can,” she said. “Delaware County is willing to provide our services. We would be able to give you back several million dollars.”
“Do you want your money back or your service the same?” Eichhorn asked the residents. They shouted back, “The same!”
Leneghan told the residents that there would be at least one more meeting for discussions before a presentation is made indicating the direction trustees plan to move on the proposal. She said that discussion would take place at the trustees’ next meeting on Monday, Dec. 17.
“My research will be done,” she said. “I would expect to have the complete response and presentation probably by the first or second meeting in January.”
Gemperline said he thought that both the county and the township need to agree to work together to find ways to improve the current service.
“Does that mean they are going to come in and take over our EMS?” he said. “I don’t know if that is the case at all.”
Gemperline said he had talked with Schuiling and Liberty Township Chief Tom O’Brien, both of whom said they could meet and discuss the needed improvements in services and how to save some money at the same time.
“Worst case scenario, I think that’s going to happen and it’s going to benefit us,” Gemperline said.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.