Future of EMS central to heated discussion at council meeting

A sometimes-heated discussion on Culver's Emergency Medical Service took center stage at last week's town council meeting.

The discussion began when town manager Dave Schoeff suggested the council consider forming a committee to examine the future of the department in light of upcoming changes in health care coverage due to so-called "Obamacare" legislation, a follow-up to the council's previous meeting. Specifically, Schoeff suggested the matter should be examined in light of the EMS' budget, replying to a query from council member Ginny Munroe that the fire department wouldn't be as affected as EMS since the latter has paid staff on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 12 hour shifts. Schoeff acknowledged nothing is "set in stone" yet regarding specifics of Obamacare requirements.

Council member Bill Githens added the matter is "a town wide problem."

"We have other people and entities that put money into EMS, like the township and the (Culver) Academies, and I think we should have an open discussion and town meeting about it. It may work out that a committee is formed based on the town meeting."

He went on to say the township or Academy could withdraw funding from the EMS, which would create a $45,000 shortfall.

Munroe replied that all emergency services -- not just EMS -- are tax funded.

"Why is it an EMS problem instead of all emergency services? Are we discussing fire, police, and EMS?"

EMS vice director Brandon Cooper, in the audience, explained the EMS' executive board makes decisions regarding the department.

"You're welcome to come," he said. "No one has...to call it a problem and say we have an issue, without coming to the root of the problem -- nobody has come to one of or meetings and said there's an issue to bring up."

Audience member Russ Mason said he understood "the elephant in the room" regarding EMS was its future status, a reference to state-mandated changes in designations of service which will go into effect in 2014. EMS director Bob Cooper III said the department's executive board had already discussed and made recommendations to the council that the EMS transition to the new Advanced status the state has proposed. He added some of the numbers he's heard thrown around regarding EMS usage and cost "are not even close to accurate."

When Githens said council members haven't yet seen any numbers, Brandon Cooper suggested interested persons attend EMS meetings and ask questions.

"Nobody's saying you're inefficient," said council member Lynn Overmyer, to which Bob Cooper III replied, "That's exactly what he said."

Bob Cooper II, a member of the EMS executive board, added, "We know you and Bill Cleavenger have a personal vendetta against the EMS and want to destroy EMS. It's time the town knows it."

Town marshal Wayne Bean, in the audience, interjected that arguments over specifics are premature, given the general confusion across the board regarding the specifics of Obamacare.

"Things need looked at for everybody," he said. "It affects everybody, including council."

Munroe added the issue is "global," and not only an EMS issue, and that all departments may need to sit down and hash out plans to handle upcoming health care mandates.

Githens expressed concerns that going Advanced would generate more members of the service from outside Culver than local, though both Cooper II and III countered that securing volunteers is a challenge, something Brandon Cooper noted is a nationwide problem.

Overmyer said some people have expressed concern that full-time, paid help have to sit at the EMS station and wait for volunteers to arrive before they can leave, though Cooper III replied the service is required to have two people on. Brandon Cooper also pointed out paid staff spend their time at the station taking care of billing, ambulance maintenance, and cleanup of the ambulance garage.

Audience member Rhonda Reinhold expressed support for an advanced service, citing distance to the closest hospital and more sophisticated medical training of advanced personnel. Munroe, referencing budget matters, noted the EMS gave back over $40,000 of its budget to the town's general fund last year, rather than overspending.

Overmyer, referring to her late husband and longtime firefighter Lance's days in that department, said it would have been wasteful to have a full-time, paid staff member at the fire station 24 hours a day, though the requirement of doing so in order for Culver's EMS to retain its Advanced status was reiterated.

Cooper III also cited "some big operational differences" between fire and EMS.

"Look at the numbers....there are less than 100 (runs annually) for fire, and we're pushing 500 (runs). And we have an hour of paperwork to get done in order to get paid for every call."

Audience member John Helfrey asked why the council would consider spending money on a new town hall if EMS is underfunded, though Overmyer replied the condition of the current town hall necessitates examining options.

Brandon Cooper told the council and audience, "What it comes down to is, we're not having a budget issue...we've already budgeted for an Advanced service. If you'd come to our meetings, you'd know that."
Cooper III added EMS business meetings take place the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m., and executive board meetings the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30.

In other discussion, the council eventually opted for a work session prior to its July 9 regular meeting to discuss parking and signage related to the downtown business district, after several audience and council members questioned the need for some portions of side streets intersecting downtown Main Street to limit parking to two hours.

In particular it was noted very few people other than those employed at Main Street or other nearby businesses park on the side streets, so those who do are unduly inconvenienced by the two-hour mandate.

Overmyer also suggested two hour parking on Main Street itself hardly gives shoppers time to dine and shop in the same visit.

Munroe noted discussion had been held in the past of installing parking meters on Main Street, which would also generate revenue. It was agreed to continue the discussion at the upcoming work session.
Also slated for discussion was the matter of signs, with Overmyer asking if a sign promoting the Flea Market Chic shop located at Elizabeth's Garden on Plymouth Street was legal. The sign had been placed in the back of a pickup truck parked near Main Street, something Russ Mason said was legal, noting the truck was not in the public right of way and therefore fell outside the jurisdiction of existing ordinances.

Some discussion took place during a public hearing concerning changing Culver's zoning map, as to whether the town should push to zone to the two-mile limit allowed it, in order to plan for future growth. Audience member Kevin Berger made the suggestion, though town attorney Jim Clevenger suggested the county -- represented at the meeting by Marshall County plan director Ralph Booker -- would be amenable to future growth on an as-needed basis.

Booker noted changing the map, a follow-up to an effort to "clean up" parcels previously within two separate zoning designations, would facilitate adoption of online building permitting and simplify identification of parcel zoning on the county's Beacon website.

The council approved the proposal.

Also approved was allowing town manager Schoeff to examine other avenues for the future location of Culver's town hall after a close look at the Main Street building occupied by First Farmers Bank proved it unlikely as a future home for municipal ownership. Schoeff said a structural engineer who conducted a walk-through of the building concluded the building could cost between $1.5 and $3 million to make usable, not counting a purchase price of $300,000 to $350,000. The investigation was part of an ongoing consideration of the deteriorating condition of the present town hall on Plymouth Street.

Among council votes was approval of $3,000 for an arborist's inventory of trees in Culver's right of ways, in conjunction with the tree commission; erecting signs for the upcoming Lake Fest; an administrative municipal flow chart submitted by Schoeff; $1,257.78 for a spectral photometer used for daily water testing; $5,600 to replace submersible pumps at the town sewer plant; authorization for council president Sally Ricciardi -- absent at that meeting -- to sign a final inspection form for the completed downtown revitalization project; and $1524.60 to renew the town's water meter contract.

Also approved was $3,440 for replacement sludge bags at the sewer plant and 25 new barricades for town usage, at $3,510 total. Utilities manager Bob Porter was granted permission to assemble a bid packet for paving work on a number of streets in Culver, including parts of Fleet, West Terrace, Mill, Academy, Jefferson, and Washington.

After brief discussion, council approved paying for a detailed analysis of the watershed in the Lake Shore Drive business district area of Culver, in particular relation to storm water flow.

Other discussion included a reply from Porter to a query from Mason about the status of the west face of the town clock installed last year; Porter said multiple attempts by himself and Verl Shaffer -- who spearheaded the fund raiser to purchase the clock -- have been fruitless. Schoeff will make attempts prior to legal action being initiated.

Patty Stallings thanked Porter and the town for their support and assistance in this year's Taste of Culver event, which featured seven local food vendors.

At Stallings' initiation, discussion was held as to why Culver's park board has an even six members, which has resulted in tied votes, which force the voted-upon matter to be dropped, which audience and park board member Rhonda Reinhold pointed out happened earlier this year regarding a proposed beer festival.

Town attorney Jim Clevenger noted the town itself makes three appointments to the park board, with the library, school board, and township making one each. Discussion reflected agreement that removing one park board member, though it would solve the problem, would result in less community representation on the board. Clevenger explained the current ordinance, which allows a maximum of six members, would have to be re-established, which the park board should formally recommend.

Discussion was also held about the 2005 ordinance which established Culver's tree commission, but which officially disallows that commission to work in the town park. Commission members Mike Stallings and Tom Kearns, noting arborist Gina Darnell is in town for several days, suggested her work could benefit the trees in the park, adding that they have worked successfully with park superintendent Kelly Young on a handful of occasions regarding new plantings, over the past seven years.

The council -- granting permission to bend the rule in this case -- debated whether to engage in the lengthy process of formally revising the ordinance, though Munroe asked that Schoeff be allowed to research making the change permanent.

Cheryl Rhoades of the Culver Chamber of Commerce was granted permission by council to close Jefferson Street from Plymouth Street to the Culver Cove for four hours on Sept. 14 for the second annual Culver Wine Fair.

The council also voted to renew Schoeff's contract until January, 2014, with a three percent salary increase.