Council signs off on EMS pilot with Pleasant Twp.
Warren City Council has voted to approve a pilot agreement with Pleasant Township that would expand an emergency medical services pilot agreement into the township.
Currently, the pilot, which runs through the end of the year, stations city fire staff at Pleasant to respond to EMS and fire calls in Pleasant three days a week from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The township reimburses the city for the cost of those personnel. The program kicked off Sept. 1.
The amendment to the agreement approved on Monday expands that arrangement to five days a week through Dec. 31 and will be funded through CARES Act funding — federal COVID-19 relief funding that the county was awarded.
Mayor Maurice Cashman kicked off the discussion by noting that Dec. 31 is “right around the corner” and asked how the agreement could be extended if staff “find that it is working well.”
Fire Chief Rodney Wren said they would start putting the data together the data before the end of the year and said they would need to have full months of data to be able to compare. He said they would start drafting the paperwork for the agreement, as well, “just in case.”
“We will have a pretty clear idea,” City Manager Nancy Freenock said, as the township is working through its budget process. She said township officials informed her a tax increase would be required in the township to fund the arrangement.
Cashman asked Wren if he gets the sense the township is “amenable to an extended agreement.”
“Yes, sir,” Wren said.
Councilman John Wortman, who has led the opposition to the agreement, then made a motion to table the amendment for the second month in a row.
“Without having seen the data of the current plan, I do not believe (we) can make an informed decision on this issue for our constituents,” he said, calling for a financial analysis before taking “any additional action.”
He outlined that covering EMS in Pleasant expands the geographic area the city is responsible to cover by 1,133 percent and the population by 27 percent.
“How can we justify passing this without adding additional personnel?” he asked. “Or are we that overstaffed that this is functional?”
He said he loves the county and its people but noted that “the seven of us have an obligation to make sure Warren’s residents are kept safe.”
Cashman noted that the city is responding into the township without the agreement.
The city has responded to EMS calls outside of the city limits over 800 times since the beginning of 2018.
“When you say we are having a diminution of services to this city, you overlook the fact that we’re obligated to go and be outside of the city,” Cashman said. He said all of Wortman’s arguments hold “some but not a lot” of water and explained that the agreement brings “more equipment, better access, fuller coverage” to the city’s residents.
“I find it to be a win-win situation,” he said, “especially under the current law that requires us to go anywhere.”
Wortman then called for the call order to be changed. That harkens back to an EMS plan enacted by the county’s departments several years ago that has never seriously been followed.
Cashman made that point and then said that the 911 Center is “blind (as to) what’s available and what’s not available” at any given time.
“I think there’s an additional factor that is not being discussed,” Councilman Gregory Fraser said. “We are getting paid by the hour to have those people there. That is a revenue stream that is beneficial to our taxpayers” compared to responding outside of the city without the agreement which leaves the city “at the mercy of insurance companies.
“Under the current agreement, we are guaranteed payment by Pleasant Township,” he continued. “We don’t have to apply to the insurance company. We are getting paid for what we are doing. I really think going to five days is compensatory for us as opposed to three days…. I think it’s a benefit to the city taxpayer (and) something we should look to encourage” if the city has the attributes to provide the service.
Wortman circled back to changing the order of calls but Fraser said Wortman was “living in a bit of a dream world…. You have a good theory.”
Wortman then asked why the city is changing its operations “when we are the ones providing the service.”
Cashman said because the city is getting paid.
Wortman said the city isn’t getting paid enough.
Councilman Christian Zavinski asked if adding the additional two days would give the city a “better idea” of the costs involved.
Wren said the full five days “would give us the extreme picture. I think that would give us a much better look at how it is going to end up.”
Wortman emphasized his belief that this is not the “best answer.”
“We are getting money for services we have to render that we were not getting money for before,” Fraser reiterated. “That is in the service of our taxpayers.”
Councilman Phil Gilbert asked about the response to the west end from Pleasant if a train cuts off the city’s response on Pennsylvania Ave. if a train is crossing.
Wren said the Pleasant unit would “be the only assets we would have going to that call” until the train clears.
Zavinski said that the amount of time Wren, Operations and Training Officer Steve Hoffman and Tim Johnson with the Pleasant VFD have put into this arrangement “speaks volumes for just how bad the problem is.”
Wortman’s motion to table failed 5-2 with Wortman and Councilman Paul Giannin voting to table. Subsequently, the motion to adopt the pilot expansion passed by the same margin with Wortman and Giannini in opposition.
Wortman said he was disappointed in the vote but sad the “process was good for all parties involved” and suggested that approving substantial items like this on a first and subsequent second reading at separate meetings would be helpful in future.