NUTLEY, NJ - Two Nutley Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad members voiced their concerns during public comment sections of the Thursday, July 9 BOC meeting questioning the unanimous passing of Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco’s Resolution No. 154-20 to hire Daniel Geltrude, of the accounting firm of Geltrude and Company, LLC in Nutley to do a forensic audit of the squad.

The township entered into a one-year contract, which begins on July 15, with Geltrude at an hourly basis, the amount not to exceed $15,000.

Nutley resident James Mazza, assistant Emergency Medical Services chief, asked why the township is spending taxpayer money hiring Geltrude to do the audit when over the past decade the squad spent $200,000 on its services.

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Mazza is a paid employee of NVERS, and was a squad volunteer for 12 years, where he has served as the president, CEO, secretary, treasurer and volunteer captain of the squad.

NVERS, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, that staffs 20 paid and 45 volunteer members, had a paid weekly staff since the 1980s. According to Mazza, due to members volunteering 100+ hours a month, the volunteer numbers were depleting. When the squad went to paid staff, the volunteer numbers began to rebound.  “Over time we increased this paid coverage to allow us to provide services to the township at the same level, free of charge and free of taxpayer expense,” he said.

According to Mazza, people from all over volunteer with NVERS because of their reputation. He said when new Emergency Medical Technicians look to their teachers for a place to go the squad’s top of the list. “NVERS is a diverse group of men and women of all races, religions and sexual orientation. As an assistant chief, I worry about the Department of Public Safety having my members’ backs when the Commissioner of Public Safety refuses to sign the [LGBTQ+] Pride Proclamation two years in a row,” he said.

Mazza claims Petracco has called NVERS to get transports for friends of his or people politically connected in the township. Mazza also said when the squad’s building had a leak he got a runaround by the Commissioner to repair the roof.  “The citizens of Nutley are grateful for the services we provide, while the Commissioner of Public Safety sees us as merely a political tool and an afterthought. […] Commissioner Petracco is quick to request an NVERS presence at events that make him or others agencies within his department look good. […],” he said.

In addition, Mazza claims NVERS has responded to all 911 calls during the pandemic without mutual aid from the police and fire, as it is too much of risk for them. Instead of a proclamation, Mazza said he believes the audit is an attempt at a “hostile takeover.”

Township Attorney Alan Genitempo said despite the fact that NVERS is labeled 501(c)(3), the township controls the operations of the department and after the Board saw the 2019 tax return, there are questions that need answers. “[…] Commissioner Petracco, of course, trusts Mr. Geltrude’s experience, knowledge of the squad, and frankly his expertise to be able to review the finances, particularly the last year and a half. […] We are going to address it, and we hope to have a very cordial result and continue operation of the squad to the benefit of the township of Nutley,” he said.

NVERS volunteer Chris Tyburski, formerly of Nutley, asked if all the commissioners believed it was ethical to hire Geltrude since the squad recently fired his firm after finding a less expensive accounting firm. Tyburski believes since Geltrude lost money from the squad that it would be unethical for the township to hire him to conduct the audit. He also asked why they were now hiring them to audit Geltrude’s replacement, spending $15,000 of the taxpayers’ money.

Tyburski resigned from NVERS about a year ago but rejoined in March, serving over 100 volunteer hours to help with the COVID-19 pandemic up until a few weeks ago.

Mayor/Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci said he believes it is ethical to hire Geltrude.

Petracco believes NVERS does not have the ability to negotiate, hire or fire professionals without the approval of the BOC and considers it unethical for the squad to fire Geltrude without the BOC having any knowledge of it. Petracco claims he only found out about it a week ago. “We have an obligation to our residents as well to make sure that we’re getting all of the information, which our ordinance presently speaks of that we have not been getting. […] there’s a paid component there as well, that we have to get those reports which we haven’t been getting for the past couple of years,” he said.

According to Genitempo NVERS needs a resolution from its board of directors to terminate Geltrude and Company, LLC. The township is requesting to see the resolution and meeting minutes.

Genitempo believes since the reason was due to money and not his ability to render services there is no reason not to hire him to conduct the audit. “We also believe reengaging Mr. Geltrude might be a savings because he doesn’t have to go back historically and gather documents and review documents. […] We called Mr. Geltrude, he didn’t call us to complain,” he said.

Genitempo said the audit is not just the one and half years but overall information on the finances. The tax return for 2019 shows a significant change from 2018. “We aren’t making accusations against anyone but we want to understand,” he said. He added, “If you have seen the tax return […] there’s reasons to have some concerns […] with the increase in salaries, increase in expenses and the negative loss on the tax return. A $220,000 loss in one year needs to be looked at; we need to find out what that’s about.”

Mazza claims the $220,000 is the purchase of a new ambulance.

Petracco also questioned the purchase of three Chevrolet Tahoes. Mazza countered asking if Petracco is driving an unmarked police car, which he believes is in violation of the attorney general’s orders.

Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans said himself and then NVERS president the late James Paulson, completed paperwork to be able to bill Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement from insurance companies. He also said the squad only pays $10 a month rent for the building they occupy. The municipality also pays for the insurance on all NVERS vehicles. “So while you argue that you are a separate business and a 501(c)(3), you’re a hybrid,” he said.

The structure, created by Paulson and Evans has particular checks and balances that the squad needs to adhere to, including an independent audit each year by Nov. 15, which Evans said has not been completed. Evans also said a member of the township and citizens are required to be on the squad’s board. “Your 501(c)(3) is in jeopardy because if you look at the filings and you look at the fundraising and the other things that are in there, there’s a lot of question marks as to whether or not you can remain a non-taxed, non for profit entity. It’s a decision that is made by the IRS not the town […],” he said.

Petracco said he is not looking to take over NVERS and he is not looking to bring the ambulance squad down to the fire department and has already looked into the cost for that model or operation and financially he doesn’t see it works. However, Mazza questioned why the Fire Department responds to all runs. He feels this is putting citizens’ lives at risk. Petracco claims every member of the department has EMT certification.

Mazza said he has heard Petracco say in his deli, “I’ll close them down in a heartbeat if I don’t like what’s going on,” and believes this is nothing more than a witch-hunt.

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