Committee Offers Contract To Tabernacle Rescue Squad. June 13, 2016 Meeting Video Available

TRS Contract ImageAt the June 13 meeting, the Committee went into closed session to discuss, among other subjects, a contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad. The TRS contract, along with the contract with the Tabernacle Fire Company #1, is part of the Township’s emergency services management plan. The Committee “established” a plan in order to dissolve the Tabernacle Fire District. The Committee dissolved the Fire District December 8, 2014.

The Committee adopted a contract with TFC#1 on November 4, 2015 (Ordinance 2015-11). It has not yet adopted a contract with the TRS.

When the Committee was deliberating on Ordinance 2015-11, which called for a contract with both the TFC#1 and the TRS, Deputy Mayor Rick Franzen made a motion to delete the provisions that called for a contract with the TRS. That motion passed and the Committee’s interest in contracting with the TRS ended. For its part, the TRS never showed any interest in contracting with Tabernacle Township.

The necessity for a contract with the TRS became clear on September 28, 2015, when it was revealed that the TRS made a side agreement with Shamong Township to transport Shamong residents for free. This became public after months of questioning by me and absence of any answers.

The need for a contract was reinforced when it was publicly revealed that the TRS had been annually earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance billings while receiving subsidies from Tabernacle Township. Township residents also learned that insurance proceeds were being used to pay TRS members for service on routine duty crew.

As these events unfolded, the TRS insisted that it was an independent private organization and had few obligations to inform the Township about anything.

The complete independence of TRS conflicted with the centralized management of emergency services that the Committee said it wanted to establish. This is what the Committee told the State in June 2014 when it sought approval to dissolve the Fire District.

The Tabernacle Township Committee finds that there is a need to centralize the delivery and management of all emergency services in order to promote the professional, efficient, cooperative and effective delivery of all emergency services in the Township….

Whereas the Committee finds that the efficient, proficient and effective delivery of services requires cooperation and coordination by and between the volunteer fire and volunteer emergency medical and rescue service entities operating within the Township and the Tabernacle Office of Emergency Management.

In order to complete the long overdue reorganization of emergency services (it’s been over two years since the application to dissolve the District), the Committee had Township Attorney Peter Lange prepare a draft TRS contract for discussion. At the June 13 meeting, after the Committee returned from closed session, it voted to forward a proposed contract to the TRS for review.

Before any contract is adopted, it will be presented to the public for its questions and comments. Mayor Lee has said that the public will have ample opportunity for comment.

One unintended benefit of the foot dragging on the TRS contract is that we now have the benefit of seeing how the Township manages fire services and how the contract with TFC#1 has worked out.

Based on this experience, significant improvement is needed. TTJ previously wrote about the problems with the TFC#1’s proposed contract (see November 20, 2015 Post). A few of those comments were addressed by the Committee at the public hearing. But, by and large, the primary issue of how emergency services will be centralized and managed has never been addressed. And the TFC#1 contract does not look like one piece of a comprehensive plan.

The discussions about the TRS contract are another opportunity for the Committee to do what it said it would do: “…centralize the delivery and management of all emergency services in order to promote the professional, efficient, cooperative and effective delivery of all emergency services in the Township.”

The recent Report of the Public Safety Subcommittee should have been a significant first step in the analysis of Tabernacle’s options. But the Committee leaped to the drafting of a contract without any substantive discussion of the Report.

Here are some basic observations about what remains to be done and what the TRS contract should contain. Detailed comments will be made when the contract is made public.

1. Organization

How should the provision of emergency services be organized? What’s the Township’s role? Who in the Township is going to be responsible? Will it be the township administrator, a public safety director, a Committee member as a liaison? Township Administrator Doug Cramer, in addition to his other duties, oversees the Township’s contract and relationship with the TFC#1. But this organization is now recognized as being much less effective than the Fire District was.

2. Management

It’s been obvious with the TRS, that bad public decisions were made because the Township didn’t exercise good management. The same has been true with the Fire Company, though it hasn’t been as obvious. Here are three quick examples:

There’s been no accounting for the $90,000 contribution that the Committee makes to the TFC#1. The Committee (and the public) has no idea how this money is spent, whether it’s too much or not enough. The Fire Company testified at the June 13 meeting, that they supplemented this contribution substantially. But none of these expenses or budgetary needs has been publicly documented.

The TFC#1 contract requires that a quarterly oral report be given to the Committee. Though the Committee didn’t bother to specify what it wanted the Fire Chief to report on. The quarterly report would be an opportunity to discuss operational and financial issues. Yet not a single report has been given in 2016.

Chief Smith used to present detailed information about the performance of the fire company. He presented it publicly to the Fire District every month. The Chief’s report included the number of responding firefighters and response times. This reporting is an essential management tool that is no longer used. When the Committee was asked how it would know if the TFC#1 is doing a good job, Committeeman Franzen answered that he would know if the fire was put out! Better management is needed.

A requirement for the public reporting of performance measures should be established for the TRS. These should be written reports, not oral.

The Committee should also create a formal connection with the Chief and the TRS President. When Chief Jackson explained how the TRS came to make its agreement with Shamong Township without the discussion or approval of the Committee, he commented that he should have been in contact more and that he thought that Administrator Doug Cramer knew. That’s not a formal structure for effective management. There must be regular and formalized contact with the Township.

3. Follow The Money

A lot of public money is spent on the TRS. This includes substantial payments for the bond for the emergency services building, insurance, fuel, building maintenance and repairs, annual cash contributions, etc. This public investment largely enables the TRS to function. Yet the TRS receives all of the insurance billing money, perhaps as much as $250,000 annually. The TRS must account for the insurance billing money. Tabernacle Township should get a complete monthly billing statement, just as every other township does.

The Township should receive the insurance billing money. Taxpayers should not be funding TRS’s private surplus, as we now are. Tabernacle should at a minimum, get rent for the $4 million dollar building and reimbursed for expenses.

4. Miscellaneous

TRS should be required to provide its current roster just as the TFC#1 is required to do. How else can the Township determine who its insuring?

Dates in the contract need to be clear. In 2015, TRS didn’t submit its financial statement until the end of the year, roughly six months later than it always had. There was much discussion about whether the report was overdue, but there were no answers. There should be no mystery about due dates. The contract should state an actual due date.

The failures to effectively manage the TRS were brought to light through Open Public Records Act requests. There’s no doubt that there wouldn’t have been any accountability without OPRA.

It’s time for the Committee to properly manage both fire and EMS and correct its past mistakes. At the July 18 meeting, the Committee will be discussing TRS negotiations in closed session. Perhaps, it will make a public announcement about the proposed contract. The meeting begins at 7:30pm.