Council tables EMS accord within twp.
A proposal to expand an emergency medical services arrangement between the City of Warren and Pleasant Township was tabled Monday night by the Warren City Council.
But that agreement was just the vehicle for a much larger and contentious debate about the city’s role in the county EMS crisis.
At last month’s council meeting, council agreed to an arrangement that would place two City of Warren EMTs at the Pleasant VFD to respond to calls in Pleasant on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the day. It’s a pilot agreement for data-gathering purposes through the end of the year.
“It is working so well that Pleasant asked the city to staff two additional days — Tuesday and Thursday,” Freenock said.
Public comments on that amendment to add the extra days were generally not supportive.
“We’re solving one problem after another with a bandaid,” Dave White said. “We are on a downhill slide that I’ve witnessed since 1971 and it’s not getting any better.”
He acknowledged that the agreement “probably needs done” but cautioned about the potential effects of regionalization.
“I’m fundamentally opposed to what’s going on,” Dave Wortman told council. “The outlying townships have a serious problem that they need to do something about.”
Wortman said some county initiatives have been taken to address the problem “at the direct expense” of city taxpayers, who pay higher taxes than the other municipalities.
“The City of Warren does not have an EMS problem,” he said. “The county has no business coming in and taking resources that are bought and paid for” by city residents “and redistributing them across the rest of the county because the townships won’t solve the problems themselves or can’t.
“To take it from the City of Warren, who has enough challenges on their plates as it is, it’s not the city’s responsibility to solve the township and county’s problems for them.”
Mayor Maurice Cashman highlighted the revenue stream coming from Pleasant Township.
“Those people are not over there for free,” Cashman said. “In a budget crunch, we now have a revenue stream that is going to help us. Pleasant isn’t that far away.”
He said the city can tap into resources the Pleasant VFD has — namely their ambulance and fire equipment.
“I see it as a real win-win situation for the citizens of Warren,” Cashman said, indicating that if additional townships sought a similar arrangement they would have to pay for it. “(We are) not going to take resources away from the City of Warren.”
Wortman said he understood the “economies of scale” argument. “All I know is that there is a serious tradeoff, taking personnel that belong to the City of Warren (and) stationing the outside of the City of Warren,” arguing it would increase response times in the city.
Cashman then highlighted the fact that if calls outside of the city are not responded to by the local department, the city will have to go. The city then has to bill insurance and may or may not be reimbursed for its response.
Councilman John Wortman then made a motion to table action on the agreement.
“I feel that we need to give the City of Warren residents an opportunity or public meeting or hearing to give them a say on this issue,” he said, suggesting that many are not aware.
“I don’t think we can walk away from this revenue stream and the ambulance it provides us,” Councilman Gregory Fraser said, indicating he would “strongly disagree” with the motion to table.
For September 1 through December 31 at three days per week, Freenock told the Times Observer that $21,632 would be generated, $64,896 extrapolated for the entire year. An increase to five days per week would generate $108,160, just less than one mill of city taxes
“These are round numbers, not exact calculations,” she cautioned.
Tabling the issue for one month would result in a loss of $11,232 in potential revenue.
At this point, council launched into a much broader discussion of the city’s role — if any — in the county-wide EMS problem.
Councilman Wortman said the city’s system “as it has been constructed for decades is under assault.”
He said the agreement “decreased the number of resources we possess within our jurisdiction.”
That statement is accurate — prior to the implementation of the pilot, there would be six firefighter/EMTs on scene in addition to management. Under the pilot, there are four on station, two in Pleasant as well as management.
So what is the best use of that staff?
“There is training that takes place and other duties as assigned — cleaning SCBA and other equipment, restocking, etc.,” Freenock told the Times Observer, in addition to fire inspections and station tours. “But is there enough work all of the time for all the persons on duty? No.”
Councilman Wortman raised concerns about “unit cohesion and morale” under this arrangement as well and said that increasing these intermunicipal agreements would be an “unmitigated disaster to the people that each of us represent. Voting yes on this proposal opens a pandora’s box to eliminating the city’s services as they currently exist.”
“Something has to be done,” Councilman Christian Zavinski said. “The city is in a fortunate or unfortunate position to have the resources…. I like what’s going on with the Pleasant thing for the most part.”
He said he wants “to be sure that we’re compensated and everyone understands how hard this is to do. Our taxes are what they are for a reason…. I (would) just like a little bit more information on the compensation going forward.”
Fire Chief Rodney Wren said that the city had been responding to Warren Manor on a “regular, daily basis.
“We’re going over there anyway,” he said. “With billing criteria as strict as it is, many times… we don’t get paid going over there. By law we have to respond where we’re called. The City of Warren cannot reserve assets.”
“This agreement provides more compensation to the City of Warren for calls that we would otherwise go uncompensated for,” Fraser said. “They’re asking to pay us more money so that Warren does not have to go to the Warren Manor for an uncompensated call?”
“Yes, sir,” Wren said.
“We pay firefighters to wait for a call,” Freenock said. “Now Pleasant is paying.”
Councilman Wortman asked how many calls have been responded to in Pleasant since this started Sept. 1 and Wren said five or six.
“Over the years, our population is decreasing,” Cashman said, and the city is “trying to maintain the same level of service over a decreasing level of taxpayers.”
He highlighted the “almost a mill of taxes” that would be generated annually by this agreement. “TO throw that way… six during the day should also be fine and there’s an income stream that is coming to us.”
He said that — without this revenue — a budget crunch would result in a tax increase or a “decrease(d) level of services in this town.”
The motion to table passed 5-2 with Cashman and Fraser voting no.