SUSSEX, NJ - During a lively meeting of Sussex Borough council Tuesday night, members discussed possible collaboration of their volunteer fire department with EMS services at Saint Clare’s Hospital, and deliberated how best to proceed with the ongoing NJDOT Route 23 Realignment Project. Representatives from Saint Clare’s Hospital spoke to the board on how an arrangement between Sussex Fire Department and First Aid Squad with the hospital might work.
“If a patient calls 911, then the response would go through Saint Clare’s,” said Director of Emergency Services at Saint Clare’s Hospital Betsy Lynch to the council.
Lynch explained the hospital was prepared to offer paid emergency services around the clock to Sussex Borough citizens.
“What would be the cost to the borough?” asked mayor Jonathan Rose.
“Nothing, it would not be a cost to the borough, it would be a cost to the residents,” replied Lynch.
She continued and said emergency services were usually covered by insurance companies, Medicare or Medicaid, with the deductible charged to residents directly.
“What happens if the person has no insurance?” asked Sal Lagatutta from the council.
Lynch said the cost was occasionally covered by charity organizations, or the resident would “self pay” Saint Clare’s Hospital out of pocket.
Sticking to logistics, Rose inquired how much a typical service call cost.
“You’re talking probably $400 is your minimum, up to, depending on the mileage, maybe $800 or $1,000,” said Lynch. She emphasized Saint Clare’s Hospital fully intended to join forces with Sussex Fire Department and First Aid Squad in enacting a capable emergency response system. “We work in collaboration with volunteer rescue services.”
When partnership with Saint Clare’s Hospital was brought to a vote, however, the overall aura on the council was skepticism. Councilmember Bruce LaBar motioned the borough scrap the proposed merge altogether and keep their existing volunteer system instead. Lagattuta asked LaBar why an immediate decision was required, saying he was under the impression the council would be hearing opinions from Sussex Fire Department at an upcoming meeting. It should be noted a good portion of Sussex Fire Department was in attendance Tuesday as this discussion occurred.
“I would like to have the fire department know where they stand,” said LaBar to Lagattuta.
“We’re supposed to be gathering information, not making decisions,” said councilmember Marina Krynicky.
“Until we know what’s going on, I’m fine with just doing what we’ve been doing,” said Edward Meyer of the council. “I don’t think everything is about dollars and cents, it’s the value of volunteerism in our community, it’s part of the social fabric.”
“I would like my decision to be informed,” Lagattuta insisted. “There were things today that didn’t impress me much. I would like to wait until we hear the other side before we make a move.”
Despite Lagattuta's reservations, council members voted against collaboration with Saint Clare’s Hospital to keep their present volunteer system unchanged.
The other big question aired Tuesday evening was how the borough planned to feasibly proceed with NJDOT Route 23 Realignment Project. Sussex Borough’s Qualified Purchasing Agent Darren Maloney took the floor to talk about options. Maloney spelled out the borough was looking at a two million dollar project almost certainly ineligible for New Jersey state funding, at least for year 2013, due to the large allocation of NJ funds directed to Hurricane Sandy relief.
“If SCUMA [Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority] increases their rate, or if we get a couple unanticipated projects, our liquidity is shot.” Maloney suggested breaking the construction initiatives down to smaller cost estimates piece by piece as an alternative to considering the project on a lump two million dollar principle.
Reactions on the council to this idea were positive. As it stands, the project entails transforming present day Route 23 into two separate northbound and southbound roadways while rehabilitating water and sewer systems in the process.
“If we just concentrate first on Route 23, which is the simpler project for construction and design, and take our time on the Hamburg Ave Side until we figure out exactly what we need to do,” Lagattuta speculated to the council.
Masson agreed. “I think we should just do one section at a time.”
Without arriving at a definite conclusion, councilmembers voted to allow borough clerk Mark Zschack to move foward in communications with John Ruschke, borough engineer, on whether estimates could be revised to reflect the cost of Route 23 roadway, water and sewer rehabilitation work separately from the infrastructure project as a whole. Maloney anticipated the Route 23 piece falling in the one million dollar price range; splitting the original price tag in half.
In new business, Sussex council carried a motion establishing set salaries and wages for borough employees (a print-out detailing salaries is available to the public and can be obtained at the municipal center) and successfully carried an ordinance allowing “Cross River Fiber” telecommunications services to maintain operations in Sussex while ensuring the borough’s “right of way”; a full print-out of which is also available to the public. The board approved a contribution of $2,800 to the rescue squad from the county of Sussex, but failed to pass a motion on the table to reimburse local business owner Vicki Gonzales $3,500 to cover flooding damages her restaurant Taco of the Town suffered in 2012.
“If it was our fault, the insurance company would have picked it up and we would have covered the deductible,” commented LaBar over whether Sussex Borough should grant Gonzales the amount she requested. “My heart goes out to her, but the insurance company said we weren’t responsible, and for me that’s it.”
When the meeting opened for public comment, Chief of Sussex Fire Department Rick VanderPloeg spoke. “I would just like to thank the council for your support here tonight; it meant a hell of a lot to all of us,” he said. Amid nods from various board members, Krynicky shot back to VanderPloeg, “I hope that in the future now that you’ve been under the microscope you’ll continue to answer calls at a 100% rate.”
Captain of Wantage First Aid Squad Marissa Gorman also rose to relay that Wantage had received fewer calls from Sussex in 2013 than in past years, a statement implying volunteers on the Sussex squad were doing their jobs. Former Mayor of Sussex Borough Katherine Little reinforced her faith in the volunteer rescue team as well.
“I am glad that you agreed to go with keeping our fire department, it is very comforting when someone from your community who you know comes to help,” she told the council. “I support the fire department 100 percent.”
In addition to Little’s encouraging words on the volunteer rescue services, she implored councilmembers to take action on an evolving situation where town residents were sharing water and sewer meters between numerous apartments, thus creating inaccurate output measurements for individual households. “I think the council needs to push to have an ordinance in place for all units of any apartment buildings to have their own meter installed,” said Little.
“I agree with Katherine Little in that I do believe that there is no ordinance in place right now preventing them from having one meter for multiple families,” said Georgeanna Stoll, a Sussex resident on Hill Street. Members of the board acknowledged they heard her concerns and would look into the matter.
For those inclined to an evening of comedy, Sussex Fire Department is hosting a comedy show and dinner buffet on May 18 at Sussex Firehouse, as a fundraiser for the fire department and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
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