The topic on the minds of many in Liberty Township and the city of Powell — the future of Liberty Township’s EMS department — is expected to take center stage once again when the Liberty Township Board of Trustees meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17, in the township hall at 7761 Liberty Road.
In their Dec. 3 meeting, trustees were confronted by a crowd of residents wearing bright red shirts with the message “Don’t play politics with our safety” printed on the back. The message is in response to a proposal, sent to the trustees for consideration, from the Delaware County Board of Commissioners. The proposal is for the county to take over the operation of the township’s emergency medical services (EMS).
The official township hall capacity is 180 people, but residents were given seats in the hallway for those who could not stand for long periods of time. Once the hallway was full, township firefighters opened up the department offices, living quarters, radio room, kitchen, and workout room of the connecting fire station so residents could participate in the meeting.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan told residents at that meeting, now two weeks ago, that there would be at least one more meeting for discussions, at the Monday, Dec. 17 meeting, before a presentation would be made indicating the direction trustees plan to move on the proposal.
“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.”
However, since that time, the City of Powell has sent a letter of cease and desist to the trustees stating the township would be in violation of the Cooperative Economic Development Agreement signed by both entities May 1, 2002, if the township’s EMS is replaced with Delaware County EMS.
“It gives clear guidance to some of the things that the township and Powell cooperate on,” said Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof. “We sent them a letter of a potential breach of the CEDA.”
According to the letter sent by the city’s legal counsel, the CEDA states it is the responsibility of the township to provide fire and EMS services to Powell and the township.
“Clearly, Liberty Township continuing to provide fire and EMS services was a material inducement to the City to enter into the CEDA. The Township provides no other significant services to taxpayers of the City,” the letter states.
During the Dec. 5 meeting of the Delaware County Board of Commissioners, Scott Simmons, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3754, warned of the potential negative impact to the Liberty Township Fire Department if trustees approve the proposal as it is currently written.
“It is on record from your meeting in October that this would mean 18 (firefighter/paramedic) jobs (lost),” he explained to the board. “That is not accurate. It would be 32 jobs once you include the part-time employees. Thirty-two jobs are equal to cutting our emergency services in Liberty Township and the city of Powell by 58 percent!”
“Simply put, this plan is unsafe, unnecessary, and hurts our community,” Simmons added.
Simmons praised the Delaware County EMS staff that would replace the township’s 32 firefighters/paramedics for their professionalism, but he said the cuts would be a reduction in service to the residents the Liberty Township Fire Department serves. However, he said the departments may wear different uniforms but have the same goal in mind, “providing those we are sworn to protect with the highest level of care possible.”
Simmons referenced a resolution from 1971 in which the commissioners enacted a half-percent sales tax. He said the county commissioners “felt the same way when they enacted the excise tax for the public peace, health, and safety, proving this by signing contracts with the Delaware City Fire Department and Liberty Township Fire Department” for the reimbursement of providing EMS.
“The Liberty Township Fire Department has been serving the residents of Liberty and the city of Powell since 1947, and we have been providing fire-based EMS since 1952,” Simmons said.
The recent debate over the EMS situation began when the Delaware County Board of Commissioners distributed a draft master plan to township trustees throughout the county in July that offered four individual options for EMS, with one of the options being a countywide run EMS department.
Commissioners commissioned Fitch and Associates of Platte City, Missouri, for the study and corresponding master draft plan.
Michael Frommer, Delaware County administrator, was invited by Liberty Township trustees to present the master draft plan and answer questions at their Oct. 1 meeting. At that time, trustees asked for a proposal from the county, to which the Delaware County Board of Commissioners drafted and sent back for the trustees to consider.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.