By STEVEN VIERA
SPOTSWOOD – After months of debate and discussion, the Borough Council has adopted a question that will appear on the ballot in November to let residents weigh in on whether or not the town should develop a full-time emergency medical services (EMS) department.
The council unanimously voted to adopt a revised version of the referendum question, which also includes explanatory statements for either a “yes” or “no” vote, at its regular meeting on July 18.
“We tried to keep it simple and direct so that people could understand it,” Council President Curtis Stollen said.
While similar to the previous draft, the explanatory statements for the new question note that “future annual increases could be expected” to point out the costs for service may increase in successive years.
The explanatory statement for a “no” vote was also changed to say that “Examples of prior options for the average assessed home were a contract option with a $40.72 tax INCREASE and a shared service option with a $26.80 tax DECREASE” in response to complaints from residents that the “no” statement did not provide enough information.
A “yes” vote in November would authorize the council to expand the borough’s EMS into a full-time department with four full-time emergency medical technician (EMT) supervisors, eight full-time EMTs, one part-time director and additional part-time per diem employees on an as-needed basis.
According to Borough Chief Financial Officer Joe Zanga, who spoke at a council meeting on June 20, this proposal would cost $1,281,243.02 and lead to a tax impact of $275.04 for residents of the average home, which is assessed at $254,661.52.
A “no” vote would enable the council to pursue possible shared service agreements for EMS with neighboring municipalities, such as East Brunswick or Monroe, or investigate the possibility of outsourcing to providers such as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Stollen explained certain challenges with revising the question, such as limited space on the ballot because the state will be posing five questions of its own to voters in November, and the difficulty of specifying any costs relating to the “no” option because such numbers were estimates and thus subject to change.
During the public portion of the meeting, residents criticized the borough’s proposal due to the phrasing of the question itself, as well as the size of the tax increase a “yes” vote would trigger.
“Are you going to vote yes for a $1.2 million increase?” resident Jackie Palmer, who took issue with the proposal, asked.
“No,” Stollen replied.
Later, Borough Administrator Dawn McDonald pointed out that the vote would be a non-binding referendum and as such, the council would not be obligated to enact the voters’ decision on EMS.
“The council doesn’t have to do one or the other,” she said. “It’s non-binding. We’re getting an opinion from the public.”
Council Members Margaret Drozd, Theodore Ricci, Leo Servis and Stollen voted in favor of adopting the question; Councilman Edward Seely was absent due to a planned vacation and therefore did not vote.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd that there’s no other way except a $1.2 million budget [increase] on a question that we come to find out isn’t even binding,” Palmer said.
Stollen said that question will now appear on November’s ballot “unless the county kicks it back.”
Contact Steven Viera at email@example.com.