CHESTERTOWN - The Horicon Town Board has all but fired the North Warren Emergency Squad, citing that the strife in the agency is threatening the health and welfare of townspeople.
The town board voted Sept. 17 to advertise for new proposals for emergency medical services for 2010 and beyond, Horicon Supervisor Ralph Bentley said Friday.
The town board now pays $49,000 per year to the North Warren Emergency Squad, based in Chestertown, for providing emergency medical services to the town of Horicon's 1,480 or so residents. The Town of Chester pays about $60,000 annually towards the squad's operations. The present service contracts with the North Warren Emergency Squad expire Dec. 31.
Bentley said the board would not accept new service proposals from the North Warren Emergency Squad unless they remove all paid staff members from their governing board of directors.
He said that with paid staff members on the board, the squad leaders were likely making decisions that benefited themselves, rather than the putting the community foremost. He said that four of the squad's seven board members were paid staffers - including squad President Kevin White.
"The squad must reorganize for us to consider them again," Bentley said. "It's unethical to be a paid staff member sitting on the board of directors while stifling any member who questions the finances or operations of the squad."
He said the squad leadership had fired several dedicated volunteers who had raised questions about the squad's finances and operations - including captain Paul Frasco and his wife Patti Frasco - and threatened to fire other squad members who sought information on the squad's finances or management, or who wanted to discuss concerns with town officials.
Contacted at the squad building late Friday afternoon, White said he wouldn't comment on the allegations over the squad operations or finances.
Bentley said the squad board had repeatedly refused to disclose finances to members who asked to see the records.
"It's a dictatorship," Bentley said, referring to White's management of the squad. Bentley said White receives about $60,000 per year in pay from the squad, although he is listed as earning $16 per hour - but he assigns himself overtime, Bentley said.
White said Tuesday he would not answer questions about his pay or any other matters.
"We have audits being done, and we have to take care of these before we answer any questions," he said, mentioning that the squad had retained an attorney to help defend themselves in these issues.
Recently, the squad let go its medical director, and had its ability to dispense pain-killing drugs revoked by the state.
Bentley said that squad members weren't adequately informed in advance about the lack of ability to carry an inventory of drugs nor use them, and they recently made an emergency medical call to Pottersville, in which a citizen's life was endangered because of not giving the EMTs prior notice.
Paul Frasco said months ago in an interview with the Adirondack Journal that he, as squad captain, had asked for full disclosure of the squad's finances last year, and that he had questions of whether some squad officials and members were using squad money and assets for their personal use. He also said he had questioned pay, including overtime, that some members of the board of directors were receiving.
In addition, he had questioned why the squad had not received a $24,000 state grant they'd qualified for and were promised.
Frasco not only didn't receive the information he was requesting, but he was suspended, then fired, soon after making these inquiries, he said.
This spring, Frasco said he has turned over his findings to the state Attorney General's office and asked for an investigation and audit. They have not to date released their findings.
Frasco said he and his wife originally had asked questions regarding finances, specifically why a routine audit had not been conducted for four years, and that Patti, then Secretary of the squad, asked White for financial records and past budgets, but he refused to produce them.
"We were concerned about the increase in expenses and the size of the proposed budget for the upcoming year of 2009," he said. Frasco said.
At one point, White had Patti Frasco removed from the squad headquarters by two state Troopers, although she was merely seeking answers to her concerns, Paul Frasco said. He added that one squad staff member had been suspended for 90 days merely for talking with the squad's medical director.
White later produced a record of aggregate personnel records, Frasco said, but these notations did not have a breakdown of payments or hours accrued by individuals.
Paul Frasco said that he had concerns that individual members might have used squad credit or debit cards to pay for personal expenses like travel, gasoline, phone bills, groceries and expensive equipment, all of which should not have been charged to the squad. He also said he suspected that squad cell phones were being improperly used for personal calls.
Frasco also said he had concerns that cash donations to the squad might not have been properly tracked and accounted for, and that many of them might have been in cash.
White dismissed Frasco's concerns this spring, replying that everything was appropriately accounted for, and any irregularity had been addressed At that time, he discounted Frasco's allegations as complaints of a disgruntled ex-member.
Paul Frasco said, however, he was merely trying to make sure the squad uses local citizens' money in a responsible, accountable manner - and that the squad provides the highest quality, most prompt service possible, to the public.
Frasco also praised the dedication and talents of the vast majority of the members of the squad.
Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said that an independent audit of the squad is being conducted, and the Chester Town Board is not taking any action toward the North Warren Emergency Squad until those audit results materialize.
He did say, however, that he felt it was unwise that the squad allow paid staffers to serve on the board of directors.
The Horicon Town Board resolution passed Thursday said that the board members were "deeply disturbed" by information from both current and former squad members, and the town board is concerned that the strife in the organization is "endangering the inner strength of this mostly volunteer organization, comprised of dedicated individuals."
The resolution also lends official status to the concerns of people in the community about the use of money by the squad leadership.
"The town board feels it can no longer feel secure entrusting the health and welfare of its townspeople to an organization that requests a large amount of tax dollars without justifying how this money is spent, and who is making the major decisions," the resolution reads.
A phone call placed Friday afternoon to Warren County EMS Coordinator Gary Scidmore wasn't returned as of Tuesday morning.