NUTLEY, NJ - An ordinance to dissolve the Nutley Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad was introduced during the Tuesday, July 21 Board of Commissioners public meeting. All commissioners were present however after ordinance introductions, Mayor/Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci left early and Revenue Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans presided over the meeting as deputy mayor.
The Zoom platform filled up fast with 100 residents watching. Zoom does allow up to 500 participants in a meeting if purchased as the plan, however it seems the township did not plan for such a large crowd.
Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco introduced Ordinance No. 3449 which if approved will dissolve the Nutley Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. According to the ordinance, the township has taken measures to secure an alternative Basic Life Service (BLS) that will serve as the emergency medical service for Nutley.
Concerns by the BOC over the operation and functioning of NVERS and alleged irregularities in management and failure to comply with the existing ordinance is what led to this ordinance.
Municipal Attorney Alan Genitempo said that the BOC has had discussions with NVERS management for the last few months in attempt for transparency in operations and finances. Genitempo said NVERS would not cooperate with the BOC’s request. “We had multiple discussions, we even agreed to a nondisclosure agreement, but yet they refuse to provide the documents. […] The action being taken by the commissioners on introducing this ordinance is not a reflection at all on the great volunteers and the workers of the Nutley Volunteer [Emergency] Rescue Squad,” he said.
Ordinance No. 60 adopted on Feb. 17, 1953 states the director of Public Safety Department controls the operations and can adopt an ordinance to dissolve the squad at any time. “The refusal of the management to abide by that ordinance is what’s resulting in this action tonight. I hope that they will reconsider their position on transparency,” said Genitempo.
Ramon Rivera, of Scarinci & Hollenbeck, serving as the special labor counsel for the township, reviewed the ordinance with Genitempo. “There were significant issues raised upon review of the documents we did receive, which raised concerns about the operation of the Nutley squad now,” he said.
According to Rivera, the township will not experience any loss because there are many options for coverage including working out the issue with NVERS, bringing in the service through a vendor or a shared service with a township or bring another service into the township.
The ordinance requires specifically that the commissioner of public safety approve the department’s rules and regulations, serve and provide information upon request. “[…] since this information was not provided the township cannot confirm to its residents that this entity is operating the way it should in compliance with the ordinance,” said Rivera.
“I want the residents of Nutley to know there won’t be any interruption in service. I will provide the service no matter what happens. I urge the Nutley [Volunteer] Rescue Squad to also know we are still willing to sit down at the table with you. We didn’t want this to come to this but we are asking to be transparent,” said Petracco. He added, “I also took a step in good faith and we are replacing Danny Geltrude because of the conflict.”
The township was to enter into a contract on July 15, with Geltrude as their forensic attorney to conduct an audit of NVERS.
Public Works Commissioner Joseph P. Scarpelli also urged the squad between now and the public hearing on Aug. 18 to provide the required documentation to move forward. “What we have with the Emergency Rescue Squad in the township of Nutley is what I call a symbiotic relationship that benefits the township, benefits the squad and it benefits our residents. […] The only way that symbiotic relationship can move forward is if there’s a spirit of cooperation and transparency […] we have a judiciary responsibility to the residents to make sure that since you are supported by this township in numerous ways that you are operating in the manner that is expected,” he said.
Mayor Tucci explained that ordinances are local laws and reiterated that Commissioner Petracco is the sole authority presiding over the squad. “This is not a question of service. The service that has been provided has been outstanding. This is a question of accountability and it’s very clear in the ordinance,” he said.
Nutley resident James Mazza, assistant Emergency Medical Services chief, said he wants to shed light on the mismanagement claims brought forward in the introduced ordinance. “Since Nutley Rescue started billing private insurance, we have utilized a billing agency that collected 15 percent of all our income derived from insurance reimbursements. Over the course of five plus years we were charged 15 percent of our take home, an amount that numbers over half a million dollars, while at the same time this billing agency charged other ambulance services such as ourselves anywhere from 6 to 8 percent.”
He said NVERS negotiated hard to get it down to 11 percent “as low as they would go,” and according to Mazza, an additional $400,000 was paid out to this billing agency.
Mazza said four Nutley residents, selected in conjunction with Commissioner Petracco and the Public Safety Department, sit on the NVERS Board of Trustees. “After a year of discussion amongst NVERS governing body, the Board of Trustees, […] the Executive Board and the general membership we made the determination to investigate new companies. […] We were being quoted 6 to 7 percent, a much more reasonable rate and closer to the industry standard for medical billing reimbursement,” said Mazza.
Mazza said that allegedly Commissioner Petracco was furious and called the squad’s chief threatening his job for making a decision, stating that the “middleman” that introduced the provider to the squad “does so much for the town” and “this is an election year” and that they could not switch billing providers. Mazza added, “This middle man came into the office and discussed all of the reasons why the rate had to remain the same. The potential new provider was providing the same service at 6 to 7 percent that we were being told had to be done at 11 percent.”
Mazza said they managed to get it down to 9 percent. “The NVERS board determined, in order to act in good faith with the Commissioner of Public Safety, that we would stay with our current provider, even though we would not be seeing the cost savings that we, as a non-profit, need to help us operate our business as we continue to operate with zero tax dollars provided by the township,” he said.
Mazza concluded by asking, “Why did it matter that NVERS was trying to save money during an election year.”
Petracco claims what Mazza said is nothing more than his “smear campaign.” He also said if he said this to the chief, Jonathan Arredondo, should be on Zoom. Arredondo is the current president and CEO of NVERS. “Truthfully all I’m asking for is documents. I don’t want to disband the ambulance squad,” he said.
Mazza said Petracco’s press release stated all documents were provided, including audits for the past four years. Mazza claims Petracco wants the donor information, which is against the law to provide.
Genitempo explained the township asked for fundraising activities to make sure there was fundraising. He also asked for bank statements, work papers from financial statements, payroll records, list of both employees and volunteers, meeting minutes, board resolutions. “You need to operate as a proper board if you are going to be a 501(c)(3) and not jeopardize the township,” he said.
According to Genitempo the tax returns for 2019 shows significant irregularities. “We’re not saying there is anything wrong, but we like to see them to confirm. […] Your refusal to turn them over only makes it more suspicious that there is something that you don’t want us to see,” he said.
Genitempo said to prove him wrong by turning over the records instead of saying NVERS is a separate entity with no obligation to the town. “If that is your position, the Commissioner has no choice but to take action,” he said.
Nutley resident Anthony Pesci, an eight-year volunteer of NVERS, said the squad invited Genitempo and all the Commissioners to sit down with them to update the memorandum of understanding and the town ordinance, which he said is outdated. It was last updated in 1983, 30 years since its adoption. “How can we represent a town and how can we be represented fairly by a town when our own memorandum of understanding is so outdated and our commissioners and their legal counsel refuses to negotiate with us,” he said.
Pesci added while Petracco claims to be working in good faith with the squad has been looking for another agency to provide 911 BLS calls to the residents.
Pesci pointed out that the squad only partially bills the residents, which he explained no one from Nutley receives a bill. NVERS only accepts what the insurance companies give them. Pesci doesn’t think that can be found anywhere in the tristate area. “So, when you say there won’t be a burden to the taxpayer directly you gentlemen are absolutely correct, a tax dollar won’t go to it but individuals will suffer in the costs of thousands and thousands of dollars and I don’t think that’s fair just so you can say well we didn’t spend tax money,” he said.
Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans again said he worked with then NVERS president the late James Paulson, have third party billing abilities. He said they also worked out an arrangement that recognized the mutuality of the interest. In addition, worked out a deal for them to occupy a public building at an annual rent of $10 a month.
Pesci said they sold the estimated $1.2 million building to the township for a dollar. Evans said it was a deed transfer because the building needed to belong to the municipality, that the building was being funded by public dollars and needed to be looked after. The township also provides insurance to the squad.
Evans said although the NVERS bylaws and the township were not updated, there is an understanding and an agreement he made with the late president. In addition, he said the understanding was NVERS would provide a service that would benefit the township, which would offset their cost of services that NVERS cannot provide, however there is no documentation only Evans word.
Petracco said he wants the volunteers to stay and some of the staff. Pesci responded, “We want all of our members to stay; they’re all family, paid or volunteer, per diem, auxiliary, chaplain, it doesn’t matter we’re all family.”
Pesci said throughout the pandemic NVERS worked over hundreds if not thousands of hours sacrificing their lives and their family’s lives but was not shown any appreciation. “How are we forgotten for COVID but remembered now,” he asked.
Evans said the township had a proclamation thanking first responders on April 21.
Pesci said that was a broad stroke when NVERS carried the township through the worst chapter of its life. “The pandemic isn’t over but you plan to get rid of us,” he questioned.
Tammy Rossi of Nutley asked if NVERS is disbanded what the plan to replace them is and how much will it cost the taxpayers. Petracco said the BOC has been working on that for the past couple weeks and hopes it does not come to that. “The town itself is facing challenges and any additional burden could really be an issue for the taxpayers,” she said.
Pennie Landry of Nutley and Louisiana said she was appalled that Evans voted to move the ordinance to a second reading. Landry asked him to reconsider what he really believes the benefit NVERS to be.
A public hearing on Ordinance No. 3499 will be held during the Tuesday, Aug. 18 Board of Commissioners meeting. The public will be able to voice opinions through the Zoom platform before the Commissioners vote. To gain access to the meeting go to zoom.us/j/98805921694. Password: 876956. For those without computer access or mobile device you may dial into the meeting at: (number based on your current location) US: +1 929 205 6099; +1 312 626 6799; +1 301 715 8592; +1 346 248 7799; +1 669 900 6833; or +1 253 215 8782. Meeting ID: 988 0592 1694.
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