Part 1 reported how the contract between the TRS and the Township keeps the status quo instead of addressing the important issues raised by the Public Safety Subcommittee Report. The TRS would remain an independent, well-funded organization with almost no Township oversight.
The TRS contract doesn’t do what the Township said it would do when it dissolved the Fire District. It doesn’t “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.”
Here’s a section by section review of the proposed TRS contract.
1. TERM. This section allows the contract to continue forever until the Township or the TRS terminates it.
Contracts of this kind should have a defined expiration date. This automatically builds in the opportunity for periodic reexamination. Allowing the contract to last forever entrenches the status quo because a majority of the Committee is needed to initiate any change. Does this Committee think they’re such experts on emergency services that there’s no need for regular, periodic reexamination? Their performance with fire services shows that they’re not. This provision for perpetual contract is just bad management.
If the TRS terminated the contract, is 90 days sufficient for the Township to find a replacement?
2. CONSIDERATION. This section requires the Township to pay TRS the amount that the TRS couldn’t collect from Tabernacle residents. If a resident has insurance, the insurance company will pay TRS. If a resident doesn’t have insurance, the Township will pay TRS. Payments will be made quarterly based on an “accounting of such out-of-pocket balance owed to the [TRS].”
The contract doesn’t specify what type of accounting will be acceptable. It should be a certified report from the billing agent. The agent is payed to keep these records and is professionally responsible for their accuracy and completeness. The Township should not accept unsupported, unexplained “data” as it currently does.
For example, in 2015, the Township accepted an email from TRS President Jamie Wood, that had a number and a vague explanation. There was no supporting data at all. Based on that email, the Committee gave the TRS $70,000.
In 2014, the Committee accepted a three-page attachment to the TRS Financial Statement titled: “C/A Journal by Date Range” and identifying the “Tabernacle Rescue Squad, Inc., 892 New Castle Road, Slippery Rock PA 16057-1502.” The title is obviously unclear; and the address is not the home of our Tabernacle Rescue Squad. I presume there’s an explanation, but it isn’t provided.
The attachment is a five-column table that gives little explanation for what the entries are or what the chart is trying to show. It doesn’t identify the township where the transports occurred. The reader can’t know if Shamong or Southampton transports are included. The table also has gaps in its transaction numbers. It goes from 870 to 874 to 879 etc.. But there’s no explanation of the gaps.
What’s missing from the Jamie Wood’s email and the five column chart are clarity, context and completeness. Neither document gives the reader enough information to know what the actual uncollected billings are in Tabernacle.
If Committee members really want to know about emergency services, as they say they do, they should insist on a regular report of all of the basic information such as the number of transports provided, location of transports, the amount billed, the amount collected and the amount outstanding. The report should provide this information for the quarter, year to date and end of year.
A report like this can be easily produced by the billing agent. It only requires the push of a few buttons on a spreadsheet program. No doubt the agent already produces this report for the TRS. Every other township requires this kind of report. It’s just a responsible management practice.
3. BUILDING USE. This section refers to the TRS “Facilities Use/License Agreement” for the use of the Emergency Services Building; it was adopted by Ordinance 2013-9.
After the Shamong Agreement debacle, and after the Committee had to wrestle with the $400,000 revenue shortfall in 2016, Committeeman Barton said many times that the TRS should pay rent for its use of the EMS building. After all, residents are paying over $200,000 annually on the bond for this building. That’s over $16,500 per month. The contract and the Facilities Use/License Agreement allow TRS to use the building rent-free. The idea of rent, after negotiations with the TRS, has been eliminated.
4. DUTIES. This section requires that the TRS provide emergency and rescue services to all persons within the Township, 24 hours a day, everyday of the year. This provision keeps things as they already are.
The TRS should be required to maintain duty crews in the Emergency Services Building. We built the ESB at a central location to enhance public safety. But it’s been documented that the TRS allows members to take the ambulances and TRS vehicles to their homes, many of which aren’t centrally located. This needlessly compromises response time, wastes our public investment in the ESB and raises questions about funding duty crew compensation for puttering around at home.
5. REPORTS. This section has three requirements. First, it requires the TRS to give quarterly reports at the Committee workshop meetings. Second, it requires TRS to submit certain quarterly reports to the Township. Third, it requires the TRS Chief and President (or designee) to meet every month with the Mayor (or designee) and the Fire Chief (or designee).
As for the quarterly workshop reports, in general, this is a good idea. The Fire Company has a similar requirement. But hasn’t ever given a public report, and it’s been almost nine months since the requirement was established. The Committee knows this, but hasn’t done anything about it. The Committee should enforce this requirement with the TFC#1 and the TRS. Whenever these reports are given, the public should have the opportunity to ask questions.
As to the written reports, what’s glaringly absent are reports on the insurance billings in Tabernacle and elsewhere and the member compensation program. As to the reports on TRS revenues, including insurance billings, these are essential to understand TRS needs and Township funding. Their absence from the contract is another example of the efforts of the TRS and Township Committee to hide financial information from the public. No other township that bills insurance companies for emergency services hides the financial information. They’re proud to show how much money they earn and how it offsets taxes.
A member compensation report is essential to understand how joint members of the TRS and TFC#1 are responding to calls and whether they’re responding to TRS calls more frequently because of the payment. It’s been reported that almost none of the joint members are responding to fire calls.
6. TERRITORY. This section requires that TRS serve within the Township and other areas where the Township has approved mutual aid agreements.
After TRS’s Shamong Agreement was revealed, the Committee said that the TRS never gave it a copy of the Shamong Agreement or informed them about it. TRS later characterized the Shamong Agreement as an ordinary mutual aid agreement, which it isn’t.
Township’s enter into ordinary mutual aid agreements with the County. The provision in the TRS contract should be clarified to say that the TRS will provide service within Tabernacle and in other areas pursuant to the Tabernacle/County mutual aid agreement. The Township shouldn’t again rely on the TRS to characterize their side agreement as a county mutual aid agreement.
The contract should also prohibit the TRS from entering into any other service agreements. As Committeeman Barton forcefully argued, the provision of services outside of the Township should be allowed only by a shared services agreement. Otherwise, Township resources are being use to provide insurance revenue for the TRS. This idea, after negotiations with the TRS, has also been discarded.
7. EQUIPMENT. This section says that equipment donated or received under a grant automatically belongs to TRS.
This is opposite to the Fire Company contract, which says that all equipment donated or received through a grant becomes property of the Township.
First, if the Township participates in the grant, say through a funding match or by providing services, the equipment should belong to the Township, not the TRS.
Second, because the TRS is building surplus through insurance revenues that the Township allows it to keep, Tabernacle residents would be funding the expansion of the TRS.
In 2013, the TRS submitted a bid to provide EMS services to Southampton Township. Southampton rejected its bid. As TRS accumulates more equipment using insurance revenue, it will be more capable of winning bids to provide EMS services in adjacent townships. Tabernacle residents should not be funding the expansion of the TRS into other townships.
Third, allowing TRS to own equipment which it acquires through insurance revenues, strips the public of its ownership and undermines the transparency of the public procurement process. When equipment is bought by the Township, the purchase is made through a public process that is generally transparent. This is how fire service equipment is handled, as specified in the TFC#1 contract. If the TRS purchases its own equipment, the public has no ownership and there is no public procurement process. The TRS would then own the equipment, which it can use in any township.
8. MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR. This section requires that the TRS will pay for all costs of maintenance and repair of equipment supplied by the Township. It should be modified to require the TRS to pay for the costs and maintenance of all equipment, regardless of who provided it. This will insure that the responsibility is placed on the entity that uses the equipment.
9. INSURANCE. This section says that the Township will pay for all TRS insurance, including auto liability, worker’s compensation, accident and health insurance and public liability insurance.
The Township should explain what accident and health insurance is.
TRS insurance, like all other TRS costs, should be broken out so that everyone can see how much the Township is spending for ambulance and rescue service. That, again, is basic management.
10. FUEL. This section says that TRS will pay for its fuel, as of January 2016. TRS fuel costs are approximately $7,500 annually. This is a crumb of contribution for an organization that, as reported by its 2014 Financial Statement, had almost $200,000 in unrestricted cash. It has been building surplus since. It’s unclear that the 2015 Financial Statement has been submitted yet. It hasn’t been discussed by the Committee.
11. ANNUAL ACCOUNTING. This section requires that the TRS submit an independently audited Financial Statement “describing its financial condition” by August 15 each year. The Financial Statement covers the prior year.
The Township’s focus on the TRS’s financial condition is important but too narrow. By asking only about the financial condition, the Committee omits a public report that gives information about important operational programs. Such a report would include a breakdown of revenue sources as well as information on membership and member compensation, at the very least.
Maybe the Committee still gets this information through private chalkboard sessions or similar backroom briefings. If so, that practice should stop. This information is vital to establishing public policy. It should be available to the public and discussed in public. It’s no surprise that the Committee overlooked the mention of the Shamong Agreement in the 2013 and 2014 Financial Statements. It didn’t want to discuss the Shamong Agreement in public.
An annual Financial Statement gives little current or usable information. For example, the Financial Statement for 2016 is submitted by August 15, 2017. The Township will have completed its 2017 budget in April or May 2017. So the TRS’s 2016 Financial Statement won’t be considered in the township budget until early 2018, two years later. That’s why financial reporting on a monthly or quarterly basis should be required.
12. AGREEMENT SUBJECT TO MUNICIPAL BUDGET. This section says that if the Township’s annual budget is reduced in any year, the Township may suspend payments to the TRS after review and consideration by the Township Administrator.
What payments are they talking about? Is it only the payments made in paragraph 2, “Consideration”? If it is, why not address this within paragraph 2, so that it’s clearer? Or does it apply to any of the Township payments that the Township makes on behalf of the TRS, such as insurance, repairs, trash removal, etc.? If that’s what the Committee means it should say so.
The role of the administrator is not clear. Does he get to determine if and by how much the payments are reduced? The decision should be discussed and voted on by the Committee at a public meeting.
13. EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLAN. This section requires the TRS to submit copies of its standard operating guidelines and its most current roster for inclusion in the Township Emergency Operations Plan. This is a secret stash. All information in the TEOP is unavailable to the public.
The Township’s refusal to require the public release of the TRS roster is contrary to what they said they wanted last spring. It’s also contrary to how the Committee deals with the TFC#1, whose updated roster it requires. Other townships also publicly require current rosters of their emergency providers. The state also requires a roster when an ambulance service is licensed, as the TRS is. But the state doesn’t have a TRS roster on file for the last three years, if not more.
Notwithstanding that the TRS is required to submit its roster to the State anyway, and that the submission of a roster is a common practice by other emergency providers (e.g., Indian Mills EMS), the Committee apparently is willing to accept the TRS’s rationale that bad people will get their roster and attack the family of the emergency provider as they respond to an emergency. This, its argument goes, forces the emergency provider to choose between responding to a call and preserving his/her family’s safety. TRS Captain Steven Cramer said as much at a recent Township meeting.
This notion is beneath the dignity of the Committee and defies common sense. A bad person wishing to do harm wouldn’t need a roster to identify TRS members. Their officers’ names are listed on their website. Many member names, WITH THEIR PICTURES!, are regularly published on the internet at Tabernacle News and Info and the TRS’s Facebook page by its own Operations Officer, David Klotz. Under the contract, a bad person could consult the Township meeting agenda to determine when the TRS chief is scheduled to give his quarterly report.
We do live in a dangerous world. But there are no logical connections between the TRS’s concern and the contract’s provision to keep their roster secret in Tabernacle, while it is required to be public in Trenton.
If you wondered how far Committee members would go to please the TRS, this seems to be it. Our Township officials should stop catering to the TRS and work harder to represent the people who elected them.
14. SAVINGS CLAUSE. This section acknowledges that the terms of the contract are limited by other laws, regulations and policies. It also establishes that the written contract is the entire contract and can only be amended in writing.
15. ARBITRATION. This section says that if the TRS and the Township can’t settle their disputes about the contract, they’re required to go through binding arbitration.
TTJ readers will recall that the Township refused to arbitrate its dispute over the rescue tools with the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company (see August 5, 2013 Post).
16. ADDITIONAL PROVISIONS. This section is an assortment of miscellaneous requirements, which I’ve labeled as “A,” “B,” etc. for convenience.
A. “Nothing herein shall be construed to increase any liability on the part of the Company to the public for errors and omissions in the performance or non-performance of its duties hereunder or pursuant to any other requirement.”
B. The TRS is required to do criminal background checks on prospective members before they can provide service to the community.
If background checks are important, and existing members haven’t been checked out, shouldn’t they be checked too?
What does the contract mean when it says “provide service to the community?” Would it allow a prospective member to do desk work without a background check?It shouldn’t. There are plenty of bad acts that can be done without direct contact with the community.
C. The Township must be notified of any disciplinary actions taken against a member as a result of a criminal proceeding.
The TRS should notify the Township if any TRS member is accused in a criminal proceeding and it should update the Township on the eventual outcome of the proceeding. Of course, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Still, the Township should be aware of any criminal proceedings against squad members.
D. The Township will reimburse TRS members if their personal property is lost or damaged resulting from the performance of their duty.
This cost should be borne by the Tabernacle Rescue Squad, Inc.. The TRS insists on being recognized as a private organization that has virtually no administrative obligations to Tabernacle. If they want to be independent, they should assume all of the responsibilities of being independent. The risk of loss for their member’s personal property, damaged in the line of duty, is one of those responsibilities.
The TRS should stop playing both sides. It can’t be private when it comes to providing information like revenues and rosters and simultaneously take public money for damages to personal property, insurance, rent and all of the other public subsidies.
MISSING PROVISIONS. These are basic terms that aren’t addressed in the contract, but should be.
A. The TRS should continuously be in compliance with all state laws and regulations that are applicable to the provision of emergency medical and rescue response services in New Jersey. TRS should annually certify to the Township, on the anniversary date of this Agreement, that it’s in compliance. TRS should also notify the Township if it has ceased to be in compliance.
B. The TRS should notify the Township, in writing, of all lawsuits, investigations, administrative proceedings and complaints against it. Again, this is not to say that the TRS is guilty. It’s just to say that the Township would be remiss if it didn’t insist on notice of proceedings that concern or affect the TRS’s performance.
C. The TRS should notify the Township of all accidents that involve TRS members in the performance of their TRS duties, or which involve TRS equipment or which occur on the site of the Emergency Services Building. All official reports of those accidents should be provided to the Township.
D. All of this information should also be in the quarterly report.
When the story about the Shamong Agreement broke, Committeemen Joseph Barton, Steven Lee, and Joseph Yates were outraged and vowed to correct emergency services. The Public Safety Subcommittee was created to examine the structure and organization of emergency services. Its improvement was also part of Mayor Lee’s and Deputy Mayor Yates’s primary campaign.
The proposed Agreement falls so far short of correcting emergency services in Tabernacle that it should be rejected. The costs and revenues of the TRS should be publicly analyzed and evaluated against the costs of other emergency service providers. Only then, will the Township Committee be able to rationally decide how to provide effective, professional emergency services, as was promised when the Committee dissolved the Fire District.