Township Committee held a massively long, three-hour closed session at its November 26, 2018 meeting (aka executive session). The agenda items for the closed session were the Tabernacle Rescue Squad contract, 2019 professional appointments and the possible purchase, lease or acquisition of a property.
When they returned from closed session, committee members made no comments about professional appointments or the property issue.
But they unanimously voted to table Ordinance 2018-7, which would have repealed the designation of the TRS as the official emergency medical and rescue service. The committee also said that contract negotiations will continue between Arch Liston, Tabernacle’s public safety director, the TRS attorney and TRS representatives. My thoughts on the contract negotiations are below.
In addition, after residents returned from waiting three hours outside in 24 degree temperatures, the committee changed its practice of requiring residents to leave town hall during closed session. Deputy Mayor Lee, to his credit, made a motion to allow residents to remain in the meeting room while the committee would meet in a “remote location” in another room in town hall. Committeeman Yates agreed, “This way, the residents don’t freeze to death.”
That’s a great start. But the policy should be clarified. Does it apply all the time and under all weather conditions? And it should be formally placed in the township’s policy manual.
As to the proposed contract with TRS, it’s taking a very long time to negotiate it. The delay suggests that there are significant issues where the TRS and the township don’t yet agree.
Here’s a brief summary of some issues that I think are essential to a contract with any EMS provider.
1. Transparency and Accountability. Transparency is essential for accountability. The township’s relationship with the TRS has demonstrated how easy it is to make bad decisions and bad policy when there’s neither oversight or transparency. The contract should require regular public reporting and documentation, not anything like a “chalkboard presentation.”
2. Financial Statement. The provider should give it’s financial statement to the township every year within two months after filing its tax returns. The TRS financial statement should be available to the public by June. But the township doesn’t require the financial statement until December. This delay serves no legitimate purpose.
3. Expenses (rent, fuel insurance and utilities). The EMS provider should pay its fair share of expenses for the use of the Emergency Services Building. These payments won’t completely offset the township’s bond payments over $220,000 annually since 2013; and, besides, the EMS provider won’t control the entire ESB. Still, given that the current TRS insurance billing program generates about $250,000 annually, the provider should pay expenses that reflect the value of the right to be the sole provider of EMS services.
4. Balance Billing. Taxpayers continue to pay TRS $35,000 annually to cover any costs that aren’t covered by insurance. It could well be that Tabernacle’s contribution includes the balance due from calls in Shamong and other townships, because under the TRS’s Shamong Agreement, Shamong Township makes no cash contribution at all. This practice is wrong and has to stop. In other townships, balance-billing is handled by billing users and writing off any uncollected balance.
5. Mutual Aid. Everyone benefits when emergency service providers can cross township lines to provide extra help when it’s needed. But when, as Mayor Barton reported, more than 50% of the TRS’s runs are to other townships, it’s clear that this is something beyond mutual aid. This practice needs to be understood so that the impact on revenues can be fairly allocated and reasonable controls can be established. The contract should also require the committee’s approval of all agreements to provide services with any other township.
6. Use of the ESB. The ESB was built for multiple uses. It was never intended to be the Squad building, even though it was called that by some people soon after it was built. The contract should acknowledge this and affirm the township’s authority to use the building as it sees fit, including the placement of a fire truck.
7. Roster. The EMS provider should give the township a complete roster when the contract starts and annually thereafter. The township should also receive an updated roster every time the roster changes.
The next township meeting is Thursday, December 27, 2018 at 7:30 PM at town hall.