Mayor Patrick Closser unveiled more details of his plan for the City of London to break away from Madison County Emergency Medical District (MCEMD) and create its own emergency medical services department during the regular council meeting Thursday evening.
It was the second reading for resolutions 135-18 and 136-18 — which if passed — would together place on the November ballot a new, 2-mill levy for the funding of the city’s new combined fire/EMS department and remove the current 3-mill levy that helps fund MCEMD.
Closser presented to a chamber full of concerned residents — a sizable portion being a contingent of MCEMD employees including Chief Robert Olwin — some of whom were less than enthusiastic about the proposal.
Before going into the plan, the mayor spoke kindly about David Eades and asked for a moment of silence in recognition of the former, long-time London mayor’s passing. The mayor received permission from Gov. John Kasich’s office to fly flags at half-staff on Saturday in Eades’ honor.
In regard to the many reactions (especially on social media) to the announcement of the proposed legislation for the city to break ties with MCEMD, Closser told his audience that he made a habit of trying to read all responses, but believed some comments were nothing more than attempts to bait him into public argument.
“I do ask citizens that if they have questions or concerns to reach out to me directly. I believe the best way to communicate would be in person so there is no miscommunication and we can have a dialog. I will also take phone calls and answer emails,” the mayor said. He then made mention of having received a series of emails made by a “fictitious person.”
The mayor said that at the previous council meeting, his intentions were to just give an overview of the proposed plan and would reveal it in more detail over time.
At Thursday’s council meeting, specific numbers regarding budgeting, etc. of the plan were not revealed. According to the administration, the City of London has requested financial information from MCEMD regarding their operating budget, asset values, and fund balances. When that information is received, a financial report will be given to city council members at the city’s regularly scheduled public meetings, according to a statement given by the administration.
Parts of the plan that were addressed include:
• London will initially have three transport vehicles
• The billing model will be the same as the current one used by MCEMD
• No additional millage will be needed for start-up, and millage will ultimately be lowered
• Additional equipment will be acquired to supplement the existing equipment and will increase staffing to cover all aspects of the new department
• Residents will still be able to be transported to the appropriate facility as needed
The mayor then responded to various criticisms of the proposal that he had so far encountered.
The first of these is the idea that a combined fire and EMS department would result in substandard service. It is Closser’s contention that combining the two will result in more efficiency and better quality. With each arm answering to the same chief, there will be less chance for error or squabbles between units. He also said that the expertise and training of department personnel is on par or surpasses that of any other department’s.
To the criticism that the stated reduction of 1-mill would be of little value, Closser responded, “Any reduction in tax burden helps all citizens and stimulates economy and growth.”
“The MCEMD replaced their recent levy instead of renewing it,” the mayor said. “This effectively raised taxes, yet they still have a substantial unappropriated, unencumbered balance with no definitive plans in place. As a taxing body we are not supposed to be banks.”
Council member Brenda Russell wanted to be sure that it was apparent that the decision to break ties with MCEMD would ultimately be up to the voting public and not council alone. Russell also chided fellow council member, Henry Comer, reminding him it was his responsibility as a member of that council to be aware of the issues when he stated that he felt uninformed about the proposal. Other council members, including president Joe Russell and Rex Castle expressed concerns as well.
Of the several members of the public to address council at the meeting, not one spoke favorably about the proposal. Of these, MCEMD Chief Robert Olwin was most succinct in the points he made and is representative of those opinions expressed.
“The mayor believes that reducing the EMS levy will save taxpayers in the city money,” Olwin said. “In fact, it will only benefit property owners.”
Renters will not see any savings and property owners will only see a savings of $35 per $100,000 of valuation (approximately $2.92 a month), according to the calculations of Olwin. “Is putting the health care of yourself and your family in less experienced hands worth $2.92 a month?” he asked.
Regarding the levy increase of 2016, Olwin stated that the city had shown obvious support for it when its representative to (and president of) the MCEMD board, Bill Long, voted affirmatively for the measure. Olwin also noted that the MCEMD board had not asked for an increase in millage since 1996.
As far as the city’s personnel being able to provide better service than that of MCEMD, Olwin was openly disbelieving, stating that his district’s employee’s are some of the best paramedics and EMT’s in the state — evidenced by the many awards received. Current leadership for the district has over 110 years of combined service in the industry, he said. Later Olwin stated that he would put his certifications up against the current chief of the London Fire Department.
A major concern was that if combined in a single department, London might possibly be crippled in the event of a train cutting off travel from one side of the city to the other. As MCEMD had two stations from which to service the city, such an event was less problematic, according to Olwin.
MCEMD has a well-known presence in the community and are involved in a host of campaigns and activities, the chief said. They have an excellent working relationship with Madison Health and provide mutual aid with surrounding areas such as Mt. Sterling and Mechanicsburg.
“What will happen if London or Somerford Township has a major fire incident and London’s Fire Department’s resources are tied up and a resident suffers a major medical emergency?” he asked.
“Combining the EMS and the Fire Department is taking a step backwards in servicing the community,” Olwin said.
Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.
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