SWOYERSVILLE — Controversy surrounding the Swoyersville Community Ambulance Association dominated a borough council meeting this week.
A motion to dissolve the group failed, however, as officials noted it has made some progress.
Councilman William Keating questioned Wendy Specht, recently appointed ambulance president, first pointing out the service has been functioning as a nonprofit even though it’s lacked nonprofit status since 2014.
Specht told Keating she had been unaware the organization was not currently recognized as a nonprofit by the state. She said she called a state office earlier in the day in an effort to regain nonprofit status.
“You may be asked to pay back taxes,” said Keating. “This is no small thing.”
Keating then asked Specht how many volunteer staff members worked for the unit. She responded with just over 10 names.
“You just listed a lot of names,” Keating said. “I would like to know why you are only making a small percentage of the calls. In June, you responded to about one-third of ambulance calls and Trans-Med responded to the rest.”
Specht told Keating the ambulance association was working on both paying down its bills and improving response rates.
Keating asked how much the unit owed to Trans-Med, an ambulance service which responds to borough calls when the Swoyersville ambulance is out of service.
“We don’t owe the a dime,” said longtime ambulance association member Ed Connor. “We’re current.”
Keating inquired as to how much money was owed to the ambulance association itself, with Specht responding, “over $12,000.”
Specht told council the person retained for billing assured the group the money would be paid.
“We get it in dribs and drabs,” she said.
“We’ve been hearing that for years,” Keating replied.
The ambulance association’s Charles West pleaded with council to give the new leadership a chance.
“I don’t know why this is a witch hunt or a vendetta,” he said, asking council to give the association a few more months.
“We’ve been giving the ambulance six more months for years,” said Keating.
Keating also questioned Specht about a petition circulated throughout the borough in support of the ambulance service.
“I’m concerned that you’ve been telling people that if Trans-Med solely served the borough, it would cost thousands of dollars more if you needed an ambulance,” he said. “That’s not true.”
“It would cost more,” said Specht.
“Not that much more,” said Keating. “Maybe a little over $70, not thousands.”
Keating then moved to dissolve the ambulance association, a motion that was not seconded because borough solicitor Joe Yeager suggested council go into executive session at that point.
When council and the mayor returned after the executive session, the motion to dissolve was tabled.
Keating told Specht council wanted to see an audit of the association’s financial records before next month’s meeting.
And councilman Pete Cwalina was appointed as council’s liaison to the ambulance association.
Mayor Chris Concert said he supported the ambulance and believed the service could be successful, provided that it better manage its finances and increase response rates.
“They owed Trans-Med about $30,000 and they made that go away,” said Concert.
Following the meeting, councilman Joe Olejnick told ambulance personnel, “You’ve been granted a stay. I’ve seen some positive steps.”
“All’s we need is about six months,” noted West.
Honoring late councilman
This week’s meeting also provided an opportunity for council and the public to pay tribute to councilman Joe Onzik, who died Saturday at age 60.
Concert said he was someone who always had the good of the borough in mind, calling him a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend.
White roses and a black cloth marked Onzik’s regular spot at the council table.
President Ronald Alunni said the borough would be accepting letters of interest for those wanting to fill Onzik’s seat.