By MICHAEL NUNES
SPOTSWOOD – At a packed Borough Council meeting, residents of three towns voiced their fierce opposition to disbanding the borough’s Emergency Medical Service.
“We have the best EMS. They work for us. Why are we getting rid of any of them? It doesn’t make sense. What really doesn’t make sense is why you guys won’t let us have the right to vote on it,” Dean Sliker, a Spotswood resident, said to members of the borough council during a meeting on Jan. 20.
Members on the dais voted unanimously to table a vote to outsource Spotswood EMS to Feb. 17 due to the possibly of a shared service agreement with another town.
“We met with another community that has shown some interest in discussing a shared service agreement to handle EMS on a regional basis. That is a move we had hoped would be possible,” Council President Curt Stollen said. He said he did not want to mention the name of the community at that time.
The council was also working with Helmetta on a shared service agreement to share ambulance services should the Spotswood council vote to abolish its borough owned EMS, according to Stollen.
According to Joe Zanga, chief financial officer for the borough, the move to privatize EMS is necessary because of new laws put in place by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“The future could bring significant increases due to the ACA, which will mainly increase benefits in full-time personnel,” Zanga said.
During the meeting that lasted three and one-half hours, the council passed out a leaflet, showing the difference in the cost of keeping its current EMS or choosing to go with Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) University Hospital in New Brunswick.
According to the leaflet, if the borough were to give its full-time EMTs family health coverage, the most expensive option, it is estimated to cost the borough $519,242 with a tax impact of $117 a year for residents. If all full-time EMTs opted for single coverage, the least expensive option, it is estimated to cost the borough $384,101, with a tax impact of $70.70 a year for residents.
If the borough chooses to enter into a contract with RWJ, according to the leaflet, the cost to the borough would be $301,000 with a tax impact of $42.04 a year per homeowner. The contract would have the borough locked in for three years, with the option to extend the pact for another two.
According to Dawn McDonald, business administrator for the borough, there are currently about seven employees who work more than 30 hours a week, allowing them to collect benefits under the ACA.
According to Stollen, there are also confidential personnel issues that have driven the council to make this decision.
“This is the type of question where there are mitigating factors behind the scenes,” Stollen said when a resident asked if there were any other reasons besides financial that lead the council to this decision.
After saying “I don’t really want to go there,” the crowd shouted, “Go there.”
Stollen then asked McDonald if there were “significant confidential personnel issues that you feel raise your concern for the health and welfare of the community” to which she replied, “Yes.”
Stollen then asked Police Chief Michael Zarro the same question, to which he replied that he was also aware of the issue.
Residents from Spotswood, Helmetta and South River attended the meeting to stand in opposition against the borough seeking to privatize the borough’s EMS service.
Michael Ayers, a resident of South River, spoke in favor of the borough preserving its service.
“Fire is not revenue neutral. Police is not revenue neutral. EMS should not be revenue neutral,” he said.
“[This] is the firing of loyal public servants who have strongly and consistently protected and saved the lives of the people of Spotswood. … The people of this community would not do this to the people who have protected us. We have a sense of loyalty to them. I looked at your numbers, but where in your numbers is the price for loyalty?” said Greg Keelen, a resident of Spotswood.
“This does not represent us. So my question for you is, who do you represent?” he concluded.
Mayor Nicholas Poliseno also read a letter from Neel Patel, the brother of Hinal Patel, a Spotswood EMT who was killed while on duty in July.
“Outsourcing EMS may see slight money reduction; however, the agencies attempting to contract with your borough will not be solely for Spotswood as they have other contracts to which they serve. Your current provider, Spotswood EMS, is primary for your town, 24 hours, seven days a week. The residents of your borough are generally satisfied with your current provider,” the letter read in part, with Neel Patel continuing on that he believes the borough is making the “wrong decision” to abolish EMS.
“Don’t let their hard work, and Hinal’s ultimate sacrifice, be thrown away by brash decision-making,” the letter concluded.
Miriam Barbarise, director of Spotswood EMS, also criticized the council, saying that an outside contractor would not be more qualified than her department.
“I am here to defend my staff. I have stood back there listening to you bash [my staff] and tell the public that they aren’t qualified enough to do the job they were hired to do. I am here to tell you that you’re wrong,” she said. “My staff has the same certifications as any other EMS service in the state of New Jersey.”
Residents criticized the council on what they believed to be a lack of transparency on the issue from members on the dais.
During the council meeting the borough council invited members from RWJ to answer questions and concerns from residents. Some residents saw the absence of the Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corporation (MONOC), which has also submitted a bid for a five-year contract worth $252,200 a year with an increase to $261,000 the final year, as suspicious.
“All we have heard is from RWJ. I haven’t heard one thing said about MONOC but they submitted a bid. I find that to be a little bit concerning,” Jackie Palmer said during the public comment session.
According to McDonald, MONOC was found to be non-compliant with the Request for Proposal (RFP) process and were no longer being considered.
She also slammed members of the dais for being more concerned with politics than what is best for residents.
“Small town politics and vendettas are clouding the judgement of this borough and what is best for the residents,” she said, citing a spat between Poliseno and Stollen at the start of the meeting over the viewing of a two minute-long tribute video of the Kloos family presenting the mayor with a $7,175 check to start a scholarship fund in Hinal Patel’s name.
“They had a two-minute long video to put [on] but our council president feels that two minutes is a waste of the public’s time. … I personally feel not allowing a two-minute video is a slap in the face to the public, to Hinal, to her family and to Spotswood EMS,” Poliseno said.
Stollen responded, “How shameful. Shame on you” for mentioning the alleged conversation.
Stollen later said, “That was not on our agenda and we’ll be very happy to schedule it at another meeting.”
Not one resident spoke in favor of outsourcing EMS.
Contact Michael Nunes at firstname.lastname@example.org.