Lawsuit says Pinellas County EMS authority shortchanged fire department $5.2 million
The Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District filed a lawsuit against the county after district officials said they were shortchanged millions of dollars in emergency medical services funding.
According to to the lawsuit, the county took away funding for EMS costs associated with Fire Station 28 in fiscal year 2009-2010 and Fire Station 26 the next year. A financial report commissioned by the district found that the defunding resulted in about $5.2 million of lost revenue that Pinellas Suncoast is trying to get back.
The complaint was filed last week, but district and county officials said they hope to resolve it through an intergovernmental dispute resolution process first before litigation moves forward, which is required by Florida law.
“The goal is to sit down at the table and work this out,” Chief Salvatore D’Angelo said.
Mike Cooksey, director of the county’s safety and emergency services, agreed.
“Working it out with staff is a preferred direction that we would like to see,” he said.
He added that he could not discuss the findings in the lawsuit citing pending litigation.
Pinellas Suncoast is one of the 18 departments that contracts with the county to provide emergency medical services. The department’s fire suppression services are paid for with a fee charged to residents in the district, which covers Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the unincorporated Oakhurst area.
According to the lawsuit, county officials slashed about $800,000 between 2009 and 2010 and another roughly $400,000 the following year. It also said that the department was regularly given less money that it contributed to the system via property taxes from residents in the district.
When the funding stopped, Suncoast used its own money to pay EMS costs for Station 28 in Oakhurst. Station 26 closed until last year when the county restored funding and reopened in a building leased to the department by the town of Indian Shores, D’Angelo said.
The suit comes at a time when the county is reworking how it doles out money to the fire departments. Last month, county officials agreed to pay about $800,000 for three administrative positions for three departments that officials said were overloaded with EMS calls and paperwork.
The county has also formed a data committee with seven fire chiefs to determine the most equitable way to distribute funding.