Pinellas dashes bid to cut EMS tax hike
CLEARWATER -- With a few subdued tea party activists watchings, Pinellas County commissioners shot down a bid Tuesday to reduce a 46 percent hike in the property tax rate for EMS service in the upcoming budget.
Commissioner Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield voted to lower it to a 23 percent increase by using $5.2 million in reserves. But other commissioners objected to reducing reserves for emergency services as the county wrestles with cities over spending cuts and spiraling costs.
It amounted to a victory for County Administrator Bob LaSala, whose staff authored the tax increase proposal while also finding spending cuts for 2012.
"You can't go araound with a SUV or a pickup truck and take people to the hospitals," Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala said of a scenario where reserves are too low in an emergency.
Under Bostock's proposal, the county would have had $14.6 million left, or a rainy day fund of 17 percent, for EMS, staff said.
Some notable take-aways:
-- There was none of the commotion -- or the large crowd of tea party members -- that attended the board meeting two weeks ago. In fact, St. Petersburg Dr. David McKalip even apologized for "speaking out of turn." So board members faced a less intense scene -- there were more people on the board dais than non-staffer residents in the crowd Tuesday, despite the harsh warnings in August.
-- Commissioner Norm Roche voted against the smaller increase and the bigger one (Bostock voted against the full increase, too). "It's just time to stop," Roche said of raising taxes and pushing potential confrontations to future years. (He learned a little bit about that last week, too.)
-- Commissioner Karen Seel promised that she wouldn't look kindly on a tax increase next year for the EMS system, hinting she could press for a reduction. (She's expected to be on the ballot in 2012.)