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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The stage is set for a clash between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County over EMS



ST. PETERSBURG --The Pinellas County Legislative Delegation recommended late last month that the County Commission should hold off on changes to the emergency medical services system until an accountant has a chance to vet two proposals. One of those plans would change the funding and staffing paid from a countywide property tax. The other would eliminate the private, for-profit company that contracts with the county to provide ambulance service in favor of having firefighter/paramedics taking patients to the hospital.

Standing down is okay with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has threatened to sue the county if it changes the funding formula or if it implements Phase 3 of its priority dispatch plan. Priority dispatch is a way of getting the right equipment and manpower to 911 callers. Most agree priority dispatch is a good idea, but Foster, fire chiefs and other fire officials say the county's plan does not meet national standards and is backwards.

Foster wrote in a letter to state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who spearheaded the idea of hiring an accountant, that he would recommend the city hold off on the suit as long as the county also stands down. But, if Pinellas advances even one part of County Administrator Bob LaSala's funding plan forward or makes any other changes to the EMS system, all bets are off.

If "any element" of the LaSala plan moves forward, Foster said, the city will sue.

LaSala, who wants the commission to pass an ordinance at its Dec. 20 meeting to allow Phase 3 of priority dispatch, said he believes Foster is being rash.

"I think it's rash and Draconian," LaSala said of Foster's stance. "The priority dispatch is a nationally approved medical protocol that saves money for the EMS system. It's hard to understand why anyone would object to achieving that outcome."

If the commission passes the enabling ordinance, LaSala said he intends to move forward with Phase 3 of priority dispatch.

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 4:29pm]


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