Guest commentary By Wil Levins
Over the last few weeks I have written about the decision our City government recently made to change a vital healthcare service for our community. My concerns about privatizing our ambulance service and those of other citizens were evident by the many questions asked at the City Council Meeting last Thursday night.
Unfortunately, the answers were fewer than the amount of questions asked, which leaves me to draw the following conclusions:
a.) Our governing body doesn’t know all the answers involved with their decision
b.) Our governing body believes they are above answering the public’s questions or sharing information with their constituents
c.) Our governing body is reluctant to share information with the public because of potential negative feedback
d.) Our governing body was wrong or inaccurate in its previous announcement that reducing the total number of firemen would not detract from the Department’s ability to perform their jobs safely and provide adequate service to the public
Looking at this situation rationally, I have tried to figure what the costs of running the ambulance were compared to what the City received in payment for services rendered. If a stark imbalance exists than why would a private company take on the responsibility, especially if they would truly not operate under a “hard-billing” system to recover their costs and turn a profit?
Hard billing and soft billing refer to the manner in which a service provider attempts to recover payment for services rendered. Under soft billing, if a resident cannot pay for an ambulance trip than the City does not pursue through a collections agency and just absorbs the cost. Hard billing is the opposite; the provider will attempt to collect fees from an individual through a collections agency.
A number of things just don't add up on this plan and I was referred to the City Administrator, Jack Lipsett, for the answers City Council could not provide at the Meeting (the questions I asked were the same as the ones I offered one week ago.)
In a follow-up question to acting Mayor, Councilman Nick Marchese, I stated that my concern was not for the Governing body exploring ways to reduce Gloucester City’s operating budget but that they moved forward without an explanation to or had a discussion with the public.
Mr. Marchese responded that City Council does not consult the public for every decision. True, Councilman, we would not expect our elected representatives to seek our advice on day-to-day operations. However, when a decision has an impact on our community as substantial as this one, I do expect our elected officials to share the reasons and facts behind their actions.
Something to ponder: Imagine if our governing body had been all Republicans instead of all Democrats and had privatized the ambulance service without explaining their actions to the public? I believe the concerns of our residents would still be the same. Having faith in the officials we elect is important but we should never have blind faith. The public has the right to know the facts behind the decisions made on our behalf and to keep our representatives accountable to the People whom they serve.
Wil Levins is the Chairman of the Gloucester City GOP