I arrived at the 4/16 Township meeting a couple minutes late on purpose: I specifically wanted to avoid John Pearson’s tedious recitation of his handpicked passage from Chicken Soup for the Soul. While I thankfully missed Pearson’s pocket sermon, unfortunately, the meeting room and the reception area outside the meeting room were absolutely packed. I couldn’t get into the meeting room, so I missed the promotion and awards ceremonies. I was finally able to find a seat in the room after those ceremonies were over and some of the people cleared out.
It should be noted that PA Municipal Code states that the Board of Supervisors cannot hold a meeting if all those wishing to attend are denied access to the meeting. It is a sunshine law violation. I can only assume that everyone who wanted to attend the 4/16 meeting stuck around till the hall cleared out and did eventually attend.
And, just to note, this is the second time in their first four months in office that the current meeting facilities were proven inadequate to serving the public.
As usual, no embedding is permitted, so the meeting can be found HERE.
We’re going to take things a little out of order and get to the heart of the meeting, which was the passage of two resolutions regarding the future of Fire and Emergency Services in Upper Providence Township. The rest of the meeting’s business is summarized at the end of the post. This meeting clocks in at 1:45, so it was yet another marathon session for your humble blogress at the keyboard.
The Agenda only contained line items approving two Ordinances, one for Fire and one for EMS, but no elaboration of what those ordinances actually contained, which were a rather lengthy outline of various milestones the Township intends to meet for the provision of Fire and EMS services. Pearson seemed to want to gloss over these ordinances (“You’ve all seen this…”) and get them passed with no discussion, which Vagnozzi thwarted, insisting on presenting a summary on the reasons the Township was proposing to implement more full-time staff, build on a combined volunteer/career fire service and construct a centralized fire and EMS facility.
Evan Brandt, of the Pottstown Mercury, does a great job on his own blog with the recitation of these milestones. The Fire Ordinance Milestones are as follows:
A. Phase 1 Milestones: – (0 – 6 months):
- Form a joint Township – Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company steering committee to address the integration of career and volunteer firefighters who shall operate as one combination fire department.
- Identify space at the Oaks Station and relocate daytime career staff to the Oaks station.
- Consider supporting a volunteer stipend program or volunteer live-in program to bolster the volunteer response.
B. Phase 2 Milestones: – (6 – 36 months)
- On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility.
- Transition career firefighter/EMTs to twelve-hour shifts (6:00am to 6:00pm) seven days per week beginning January 1, 2019
- Fund the hiring of two full-time career firefighter/EMTs and the transition of existing career firefighters to 12-hour shifts as part of the 2019 budget.
- On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility. April 16, 2018 BOS Meeting Page 148 of 162
- Relocate career firefighters to the new emergency services facility upon completion of the facility which shall act as the main hub of fire service delivery to Upper Providence Township.
- Develop a plan for the disposition of the Mont Clare Fire Station and support Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company in evaluating and making needed upgrades to the Oaks Fire Station.
C. Phase 3 Milestones: – (3 – 5 years)
- Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing fire services.
- Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional fire services blueprint by 2025.
- Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on fire-related issues but all areas of municipal service.
Though the ordinance passed unanimously, there was some discussion over costs and the particulars of the prescribed milestones.
Most of this discussion centered around the re-location of the Township’s engine 93 and the daytime township staff from their centralized location at the BlackRock campus to the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road and the implementation of a stipend plan.
What’s interesting about this discussion is that there does not seem to have been any thought regarding the mechanics of how all this will work, except amongst the Democrats on the Board. Barker questioned how the stipend program will be controlled, with specifics on how volunteers will get paid, and how many volunteers will get paid. Calci interrupted with the admonishment not to get “too deep in the weeds” right now, while Pearson assured everyone that the volunteers who get paid the stipend will be “qualified.”
And while no specifics were offered, the Democrats’ collective reaction indicates that plan, at least in concept, was dictated by them. Perhaps details on how the volunteers will be paid will be hashed out in the coming weeks after Quizzo at the Fitz. Or maybe at that private meeting in the side office, that took place immediately after the Board meeting, between Pearson and the Kaspers.
So is this the right place to mention that the difference in funding for Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company is $138, 676 between the old fire funding formula and the new one passed last May that the Democrats politicized with this mailer?
I think it is, especially since there has been nothing but silence from the Democrats regarding restoring that funding. As detailed below, the difference between the ambulance option and the medic responder option—conservatively—is $87,000. Yet surprisingly, this Board, who made such a business of the change in fire funding, has made no attempt to restore that funding. Indeed, they are proposing to spend over ONE AND A HALF TIMES MORE THAN THE DIFFERENCE on their preferred, vastly more expensive medic responder option for EMS alone. Of course, they are also now proposing to actually pay the volunteers a stipend, so maybe the fire funding formula wasn’t the critical public safety issue we were led to believe it was last fall.
The Township has already proposed (but not approved) an approximate $207,000 increase in fire funding to take the township career staff to 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, a plan which will be implemented with the 2019 budget.
I’ll defer to Evan Brandt’s blog once again to outline the particulars of the ordinance since Pearson didn’t want to go over it in the meeting.
A. Phase 1 Milestones:
- On or before June 1, 2018 prepare and circulate a competitive request for proposal (RFP) for staffing an ALS medic responder twenty-four (24) hours per day, seven (7) days per week.
- On or before August 1, 2018, present for the Board of Supervisors’ consideration a written agreement with the contracted agency.
- On or before August 15, 2018, and in compliance with Commonwealth bidding laws, procure and upfit a vehicle to provide an ALS medic responder capability for use by the contracted agency utilizing proceeds from the DOW grant.
- On or before September 15, 2018 formally deploy the ALS medic responder at an interim, centralized location within the Township.B. Phase 2 Milestones:
- On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility, which will include a dual design for a future full-service ALS ambulance.
- In preparing the 2019 operating and capital budget, increase the EMS portion of the public safety levy to fund the ALS medic responder.
- On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility.
- Maintain current QRS capability through January 1, 2019 and expand QRS capability after January 1, 2019 to coincide with expanded firefighter/EMT shifts.
- Relocate the ALS medic responder to the new emergency services facility upon its completion.
- Annually evaluate EMS call volume and response statistics beginning in February of 2019 for the prior year to determine when it may be appropriate to deploy an ALS ambulance.C. Phase 3 Milestones: – Over the next 3-5 years and before deploying an ALS ambulance:
- Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing emergency medical services.
- Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional EMS blueprint by 2025.
- Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on EMS-related issues but all areas of municipal service.
Predictably, there was quite a bit more discussion on this ordinance, as the Ambulance/Medic Responder decision is the most contentious issue in front of the Board—at least this week.
Barker led off the discussion, noting that the Medic Responder option seems to be an old process that was popular in the 1980’s. Barker states that he made some calls to Montgomery County and that there is no one in the County that uses this old format anymore. This model was abandoned because so many people became paramedics.
Pearson jumps in, insisting that they didn’t do away with the Medic Responder model and that there are other facilities that use it, but he doesn’t know which ones they are. Floundering in deep water, he then throws it immediately to Josh Overholt, Director of Upper Providence Fire and EMS, to rescue him.
Overholt responds with a bit of background on the Medic Responder model, stating that they were originally provided by hospitals. Overholt then elaborates:
There were some concerns that putting an ambulance here may actually take calls from some of the agencies and we could ultimately hurt those agencies. So where it is an older model, it kind of fits what we’re looking to do if that’s still a concern.
Overholt, notably, does not offer the names of any municipalities within Montgomery County where this model is in use, but his answer is instructive in identifying the majority of the Board’s motivation for the Medic Responder. Overholt further notes that the Medic Responder would address response times but it is not transport capable. Who will actually be staffing this unit, be it EMTs or Paramedics, will be determined when the responses to the RFP are returned.
Barker then asks, if the transport capable ambulance is the only one capable of billing for services, what would be the incentive for an EMS provider to bid to staff the Medic Responder in Upper Providence, since the medic responder will not be able to bill?
The answer is that the taxpayers of Upper Providence will pay. It will be a Township expense, to the tune of $250,000 per year.
At 108:15, Vagnozzi has “a couple of comments:”
My largest concern is cost—and just to make sure nobody tosses it back in my face that human life should not have a cost, my point is, I agree with that, but when there is a cheaper alternative that is every bit or more effective, then the proposal cost does come into play.
Vagnozzi reiterates that the Medic Responder will cost the township $250,000 per year and he sole source of revenue for that operation will be from Upper Providence Township taxpayers. Citing the PA State ALS equipment checklist, Vagnozzi notes that the estimate for the vehicle is, by his calculation, probably in excess of $100,000 and that the proposed Medic Responder unit is, equipment-wise, essentially “an ambulance without a stretcher.” He notes the dichotomy of the Democrats’ resistance to purchasing the ambulance, but their willingness to purchase a Medical Responder unit.
Vagnozzi also says he disagrees with the figures presented at the April 4 meeting and that the budgeted numbers are short about $100,000 in donations and subscriptions. Additionally, the quote for the operating costs of the ambulance are overestimated by about $65,000 per year.
Vagnozzi states that there seems to be agreement on the Board that in a few years the Township will be going with an ambulance, so why wait? Why purchase a vehicle we will need to replace before it outlives its useful life?
Pearson then insists that he’s not going to jeopardize the outside services to Trappe, Royersford “or wherever else these guys go,” and “that’s the reason we’re doing it this way. One of the reasons we’re doing it this way.” Mr. Transparency, clearly wanting to get out of this discussion of life and death matters in the Township, says:
And Al, we’ve beat this thing up to death, some of the same people are in the audience here. You’ve gone over this a million bazillion times, I understand your angst about all of this…uhhhh, can you kinda wrap it up a little bit?
This lays the groundwork for the heart of the disagreement. While Vagnozzi continues to insist he agrees with everything on the resolution but the medic response unit, he acknowledges the Democrats’ concerns about a new Upper Providence ambulance service affecting the existing squads.
Vagnozzi says each squad must operate their business efficiently and that,
There is no doubt in my mind that Upper Providence is subsidizing EMS delivery to Phoenixville and some other towns around here.
If the squads aren’t making money, they need to go to the municipalities they serve and ask for money. Vagnozzi states baldly that the Democrats are putting the health and well being of the squads over and above that of our residents.
Pearson counters with his argument that if we jeopardize the soundness of the other squads we are jeopardizing the well-being of the community and he’s not going to tell any of the squads how to run their businesses.
Pausing here for a time out, but excuse me, Mr. Pearson: Then why are the squads dictating to you how you do Township business? The mandate of the Board is to provide health and safety to our residents. If the squads’ manner of doing business is the only thing that prevents the Board from doing that in the best, most cost-efficient manner, then the squads need to adjust to the changing times, not lobby the Board to maintain the status quo.
It’s at this point at 1:17:00 in that Calci interrupts with, “I have something to say,” and proceeds to read from prepared notes. Higgins reads a prepared statement immediately thereafter, but before I quote these statements in their entirety (and offer my thoughts on each) it should be noted that once again, there was no executive session to report, yet both Higgins and Calci (or Pearson’s “girls,” as he likes to call them) take the unprecedented step of preparing what are essentially “signing statements” to justify their votes. This is just one of many moments that looks like a choreographed performance by this board. Sunshine laws prohibit a quorum of the board meeting in a non-public session, and there are too many of these moments of complete synchronicity amongst the Democrats to ignore.
Calci’s prepared statement:
After an exhaustive 360 degree look at fire and EMS, the staff including Tim Tieperman, Bryan Bortnichak, and Josh Overholt, came up with a comprehensive presentation for the residents and supervisors of Upper Providence Township. They spoke with subject matter experts from within out Township, such as Oaks Fire Station President Joe LoCasale and the various EMS agencies that serve the area. They collaborated with experts outside of our township, such as Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County, even reaching up to the state level to make sure what they were representing and bringing to us was on track and made sense for our situation. These discussions helped formulate forward thinking solutions for the increasing emergency services needs for our residents. A matrix was created scoring the various solutions. The dashboard scoring points us to the best recommendation for the Township, which I am voting in favor of. As conditions change, such as an increase in call volume, enough to support an additional ambulance, we will re-evaluate the fire and EMS situation. I want to take this moment and thank the many people who worked hard in order to provide me with the information to vote on this resolution. We are fortunate to have such competent staff.
A few thoughts on Calci’s statement.
First, the appeal to authority, while a nice try, isn’t going to work. Neither Cheltenham, Montgomery County nor Harrisburg knows how best to run Fire and EMS in Upper Providence Township. That is what YOU were elected to do.
Second, the laying off of responsibility for this plan on to staff is also lame, especially in light of Vagnozzi’s viable claim that staff was bullied into this recommendation. Backing up Vagnozzi’s assertion is the fact that the Medic Responder option is an option that was never explored, or considered, until literally 12 days prior to this meeting when it was rolled out as part of the special Fire and EMS meeting. In January, the Democrats were crying that they needed more time to study this issue because they had only been in office for 35 days, then at the April 4 meeting, they had ZERO questions about this brand new, never-before-proposed option. While they all continue to insist that this is “staff’s” presentation, in the face of the facts on the ground, this statement simply defies credibility. This is the Democrats’ option. Why won’t they own it?
Third, let’s talk about that scoring matrix.
Cost: I am not sure why the ambulance is getting only a 2 score here, since the Township has to choose between two options; it does not get to choose “none of the above,” which presumably would be the option that would earn a 3. Therefore, the comparison between cost options is only between the two options and one is clearly much better than the other. The medic responder, by ALL accounts, is the more expensive option; the costs never go down, and they are not offset by Ambulance company billing or subscriptions. Why isn’t the Ambulance getting a 3, since it is actually much more cost effective?
Response Times and Crew Uptime Availability: Why are these two separate line items on the matrix? I am not sure what metrics went into these two line items or for that matter, what differentiates them, so I filed a Right to Know request with the Township last week to get that information. To my mind, they should be one line item, but hopefully the results of the RTK will clarify these line items on the matrix.
Impact on Regional Providers: This line item is the primary reason the Democrats have cited for being against the implementation of an ambulance, but the actual data to back up this impact has been anecdotal at best. I also filed a Right to Know request for the information that went into scoring this particular data point.
Exclusively Serves UPT: I think we settled this one during the last meeting and, interestingly, this point wasn’t even brought up at all in the discussion on 4/16—almost as if the Democrats were told, yes, a medic responder WILL indeed leave the Township boundaries, if necessary. As an aside, it’s awfully ironic that for all of this concern for the community at large, the Democrats don’t seem all that anxious to share this newly-established resource with our neighbors.
Quality of Service to Residents: Isn’t this really the only metric that should matter? Doesn’t this one line item factor in all of the other data points? It’s almost as if the matrix was specifically designed to give them cover.
At 1:18:51, Higgins reads her “signing statement:”
My comment is, I am voting for the ALS responder unit for all of the reasons I’ve stated in the past. We’re not an island unto ourselves; we have to work together with our neighbors. We have to work regionally, such as a council of governments of C.O.G. We are highly dependent on the other agencies whether or not we get our own ambulance or have an ALS. When our unit is busy or needs more help, we need the other agencies to back us up. All units get called out to other calls all the time and there’s no guaranty that any specific unit will be at any specific spot at any specific time. Because we’re dependent upon the other agencies, we don’t need to negatively impact them financially. The Hippocratic Oath says, ‘First do no harm.’ Response times was given as the single most important issue. The ALS Medic Responder answers this problem while providing advanced life support just like an ambulance would while not offering transports which means it does not impact the other agencies in a negative way. Finally, my guiding principle is to do what’s best for the Township as a whole, not just for one person, or one neighborhood or one business or one agency. I look at the whole picture and try to pick the solution that helps the most people, hurts the fewest people while benefitting the community as a whole.
Oh, serving everyone and not individuals or neighbors. Kind of like that Farm Preservation a few weeks back.
Vagnozzi’s response to this was,
I am shocked and dismayed. I didn’t need anything pre-written to read to the audience. There is no doubt in my mind….that our staff was bullied by some members on this Board to produce a matrix that was favorable to the Medic Response Unit.
It’s at this point in the video that Calci can be heard whispering something unintelligible to Pearson, to which Pearson responds, “Not yet.”
To answer the earlier appeal to Cheltenham’s expertise, Barker asks if Cheltenham Township uses a medic responder. When staff answers no, Barker continues:
Nowhere in Montgomery County is a medic responder unit used. It is used in rural areas where there are not enough paramedics to man an ambulance and they use a medic responder to cover two or three different townships, maybe even a whole county. There’s nobody that uses this model anymore.
By now, Pearson is visibly shaking his head and working up a self-righteous anger, kind of like Hulk Hogan when he was coming out of an Andre the Giant sleeper hold. But instead of providing his own “signing statement” or some sort of rationale for his vote, Pearson instead launches into this:
The Times Herald on Friday, April 13, there was an egregious attack on this Board and our Township staff by one of our own Board members in regards to this fire and emergency services issue. I spent my weekend contemplating just how to respond to this attack about the lies and accusations by this individual. I chose to take the high road and not respond. I’ll let the actions of this Board speak loud and clear to everybody up here. It is our intention to serve the residents of this township with fidelity. If you don’t know what that word means, look it up. Fidelity.
While I nearly burst out laughing at John Pearson’s moralizing on the meaning of “fidelity” (a word I’m sure he looked up himself when he got the script for the promotion of Det. Sgt. Pat Haines earlier in the evening), I was also vividly reminded of Mike Vereb’s bout of righteous indignation in front of the Board several years ago, after I wrote a letter to the paper calling him out on his shenanigans. The Township was witness to similar huffing and puffing and all the attendant political theater that’s baked into the cake of a Mike Vereb visit. It’s clear that Pearson has learned from his master well. The only thing that was missing were the “Hear! Hear’s!” of political sock puppets Chris Czop, Jim White and Pearson himself.
The letter in question is here:
Now just a moment to address Pearson’s little diatribe: By reacting in such a way, he has chosen to react; this is not “taking the high road,” nor is it “not reacting.” The fact that he spent the weekend chewing over how to respond to this letter, rather than contemplating the impact of the vote he was about to make, speaks volumes about his priorities and decision making process.
Pearson’s style is to have everyone go along to get along up on the dias, after hashing things out in the backroom. On more than one occasion, he has whined about Vagnozzi arguing points in a meeting that he insisted were settled before the meeting. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to do this,” is a now familiar Pearson trope.
Pearson and “his girls” are desperately trying to distance themselves as the architects of the Medic Responder reccommendation and attempting to shift the responsibility for this decision on staff. They are trying, unsuccessfully, I think, to promote an appeal-to-authority narrative that they are doing this because staff said to do this. Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog?
Is this the transparency you voted for?
Anyway, unsurprisingly, the vote came down 3-2 in favor along party lines. The Democrats now own this.
Promotions and Life Saving Awards
As mentioned earlier, the room was packed because many folks came to see the Township recognize some extraordinary individuals.
First, Detective Pay Haines was promoted to Detective Sergeant in the police department. Sgt Haines has served Upper Providence since 1998 and, I can say from first hand experience, that his promotion is well deserved. Congratulations Detective Sergeant Haines!
Josh Overholt then took the floor and recognized the life-saving efforts of bystanders and first responders in saving the lives of two people who were stricken by sudden cardiac arrest. Maeve Quinn is fifteen years old and was stricken while playing softball at Pope John Paull II High School. The quick work of her coaches in the use of an AED and CPR saved her life while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.
Joe Gold was stricken on the job and was saved by a co-worker and a 911 operator who gave him instructions on CPR while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.
Planning and Zoning Report
Since the Board doesn’t bother attending Planning and Zoning meetings any more (though I am pretty sure Barker still goes pretty regularly) Township Planner Geoff Grace is tasked with staying until the end of the meeting to give the Board a report.
- Marchetti at 229 Blackrock Road is looking for a minor subdivision
- Pulte at 1701 West Main Street is looking to change zoning from NC to R3 and put in Townhouses.
- Future of Lidl site is undetermined at this point
- DiVini Equities are coming in with a plan for a daycare and dental office at Route 29 in front of Patient First.
- The Board approved the publishing of a preliminary opinion by the Township planner on the use a for the Institutional overlay parcel behind the Meadows for Providence Business Park III. The Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan, explained that this is a safeguard for developers, which has the Township issue an opinion stating that the proposed development is generally compliant with the zoning. It forces any challenges to the development up front, as opposed to after much time and effort has been expended by the developer. The use proposed is for a private re-hab center.
- On the next Planning Commission agenda May 3:
- SEI variances
- Wawa trash enclosure
- Temporary signage at 429 Lewis Road.
- The Board approved an application for a $20,000 matching grant with Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management to conduct multi-phased a transportation demand Management study.
- The Board adopted the Montgomery County Hazard Mitigation Plan which will enable the Township to receive federal funds to address properties impacted by hazards.
- The Board approved a stormwater conveyance and construction easement for the Founder’s Reserve development project on Valley View Drive
- The Board approved a $31,585.63 change order to mill and overlay the Pavillion parking lot at the Black Rock campus.
- The Board awarded paving contracts for six roads in the Township.
- The Board announced Drug Takeback Day between 10 am and 2pm on April 28, 2018. Unwanted prescription drugs can be dropped off at the police administration building during that time,