EMS fee prompts Farmington resident to start petition

Some Farmington Township residents are not happy with the $115 assessed fee for the Forest EMS Authority; so one of them is doing something about it.

Tim Benzo has started a petition for township residents to sign in order to get Farmington Township out of the authority, which was started in May.

“This is to make sure everybody’s voice gets heard; so they don’t feel like they’re not being listened to by their elected representatives,” Benzo said. “Most people’s issue is we were not asked, we were not told what was going on or anything, we just got a bill. And now we’re finding out about this authority and people don’t like the overstepping of the authority.

“Me personally, I see the need (for an ambulance service), but at the same time, to see it done like this and (the authority board) not answering any of our questions.”

Benzo believes township residents were disrespected at the Farmington Township supervisors Feb. 7 meeting, and that Matt Sherbine, a former supervisor and Forest Area EMS board member, had a poor attitude toward those who asked questions or commented. He also believes Sherbine did not give residents in attendance a fair opportunity to air grievances.

Information session

A number of Farmington Township residents, along with those from the townships of Jenks, Howe and the eastern portion of Green in Forest County — communities that are in the authority’s coverage area — attended the authority’s information session at the MACA building in Marienville on Feb 15.

The authority couldn’t hold a regular meeting because it did not have a quorum. One member was absent and Farmington Township Supervisor Charles Gilbert had not been appointed to fill the seat on the board vacated by Sherbine.

Authority President Ed Stoner read a letter explaining because the authority did not receive enough financial help from local government, businesses or individuals, it became necessary to establish an EMS fee of $115 per year to pay for the bulk of the authority’s expenses.

He also explained property assessments to establish the fee were done on the level of demand on the ambulance service expected from each individual parcel.

Stoner also said the authority could raise the rates for the fee as necessary on a yearly basis and the rate increases will be voted on by the authority after the residents are informed of the increase.

If the assessments were to be unpaid by the due date, residents would be charged a late fee of $40. If the payment were to be 60 days late, the authority would file a complaint with the district magistrate.

Public comment

One attendee expressed “kudos to you guys” during the authority’s public comment session, “but there have been a lot of missteps from people who are volunteers meaning well … they do not possess the administrative experience to get this broad of a project underway. We have been better to have started small in one community with equipment then expand.”

Stoner responded by asking how many people have stepped forward to help. In directly addressing the individual who commented, Stoner said, “You and I had a lengthy conversation weeks ago, and now you’re saying ‘you should have done this and this and this, and (the board) would have appreciated if you would have stepped forward and followed through then.”

Farmington resident, Scott Sauerland in broaching the subject of the EMS fee being raised in the future, said he doesn’t believe most people have a problem with the $115 fee. However, “what they have a problem with is not knowing the future fee. “Would this authority be willing to, in writing, impose a limit on how much they can raise (the fee) every year without it going to a vote of all the parties involved?”

Stoner responded if the authority were to need a fee increase by any amount, it would have to be justified. “Realistically, for us to put a cap on it, that would be tough.”

Sauerland then responded if advanced life support (ALS) were to become a 24-hour-per-day service, and because the authority is covering a large area, the desire would be to buy another ambulance and put another station further north, “and that is all justification for you guys to raise (the fee) to whatever you want.”

Currently, the proposed Forest EMS Authority will only have service in its coverage area from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. The ambulance will also only have basic life support service.

“We are going to maintain the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. coverage for a couple of years, analyze everything, see where it’s at and if the authority wanted to jump and do ALS 24/7, we would have to bring that to the supervisors, and the supervisors would have to present that to the public.”

Sauerland said, “You guys as a group can make that decision all on your own without bringing it back to the township supervisors, so don’t blow smoke up people’s skirts saying that you are going to bring it back to the township supervisors, who are going to bring it back to their constituents, because it’s not going to happen.”

Stoner, in response to another resident’s question as to whether public input would be involved on a fee increase proposal, said township supervisors are representative of their respective communities and that their vote would represent the public.

Another attendee asked why the authority chose to negotiate with Clarion Hospital Emergency Medical Services instead of EmegyCare from Kane. She also was upset that the authority was negotiating with Clarion Hospital EMS after Clarion Hospital removed EMS service from the area years ago.

“That was part of the past and what happened in the past is the past,” Stoner said about Clarion Hospital Ambulance removing its service. “Clarion (Hospital) is like any other business, unfortunately, and people pay with their lives. If they weren’t making money in town and can’t afford (providing service), they are going to move elsewhere. We did talk quite awhile with EmergyCare and we talked with Clarion, and Clarion decided to (cover the area).”

Stoner also said the cost for EmergyCare was about $100,000 more than Clarion Hospital EMS.

Other option?

Another attendee questioned why the authority didn’t look into approaching the volunteer fire departments about a quick response service.

“A QRS is a lot cheaper to get off the ground than an ambulance is,” he said, “especially a BLS crew because most firefighters basically have BLS (certification). A quick response vehicle can run out of the fire department for way less money and overhead.”

“There aren’t enough volunteers,” Stoner said.

Benzo asked how much the property assessments were before Barnett Township pulled out of the authority.

When the assessment appeal letters were mailed is when Barnett Township chose to withdraw and over 1,000 parcels were lost, according to Stoner. “What we did with those remaining four townships when we got those appeals back, we took the number of appeals from the number of assessable pieces of property and took the remainder and divided it into the anticipated financial need. That’s how we arrived at the $115 assessment.”

Stoner said the authority had informal discussions about bringing votes on increases to the public, but made no move because they were without a Farmington Township representative.

“We are looking at all the options,” Stoner said. “We’re not here beating anybody, we are trying to save life and limb.”

He said the delay in getting the ambulance service up and running was due in part to the residents. “This delay is falling back on people because people just threw their mail out.”

Many of those who had their property assessed said they never received an appeal letter from the authority.

Another attendee asked why the authority didn’t use the ambulance building in Marienville to house the ambulance instead of having it headquartered in Leeper.

Stoner said Farmington offered the unoccupied ambulance garage in Leeper and the authority agreed to have the ambulance service headquartered there for three years.

The next Forest EMS Authority meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held at the Farmington Township Social Hall in Leeper at 5 p.m. March 1.