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Emergency medical services council gives Pinellas County funding plan tepid support

Under pressure from Pinellas officials, a board that advises the County Commission about emergency medical services agreed to support a proposal that would significantly change the way the EMS system is funded.

The 8-4 vote last week from members of the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council was less than enthusiastic. The motion approved was to recommend the County Commission support the plan and the funding change but to be open to other reports and information that comes along. Its support is contingent on the results of an upcoming study into feasibility of the plan and on tweaking the proposal. It's unclear what tweaks the council envisioned.

The council was established by state law. It has 21 members including mayors, fire and EMS chiefs, doctors and consumers. Only 12 members were at Wednesday's meeting.

Under the proposal, the county would pay for part of the costs of 72 fire trucks that would be used for both fire and medical calls, the medical equipment and one position on each truck. A position is three people — one for each shift — and the replacements necessary during vacations or sick time. The county would pay the average salary and benefits of firefighter/paramedics across the county.

Pinellas currently uses the countywide EMS property tax to fund 62 vehicles (fire trucks and rescues — the ones that look like ambulances), medical equipment and 85 positions. The county pays each of the 18 fire districts that department's actual costs of salaries and benefits for those positions, a number that ranges from $80,000 to $134,000 per person.

The cost of the new plan, County Administrator Bob LaSala says, would be about $27.1 million annually, a savings of about $11 million over the current system.

LaSala on Wednesday urged the EMS council to endorse his plan and recommend that the County Commission adopt it later this year. If the commission adopts it, the financial changes would go into effect Oct. 1, 2012.

"Yes, this proposal is the best," LaSala said. "This is the right thing to do and the right approach to take provided we do not sit on our hands for the next 25 years."

LaSala conceded that his proposal is "a work in progress." The county is planning to hire a consultant to doublecheck the feasibility of the plan and to help implement it.

"This is a human endeavor," LaSala said. "It's not perfect. It's not going to be perfect."

Some EMS council members urged that the group withhold any conclusions until the next study has been done.

"I don't have the confidence that's the right plan for our county," South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters said.

But Assistant County Administrator Maureen Freaney, who is not an EMS council member, repeatedly pushed the group to vote in favor of the plan.

"We need to keep moving," Freaney said. "Having the drive from this group is critical. It wouldn't be a good thing" if the EMS council did not support the plan.

Freaney added, "I really have little doubt it will work."

St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Chief Steven Knight suggested holding off until more information was available. The plan, he said, was contained in a preliminary report, not a final one. All the data are not available, he said.

"I don't understand the urgency with additional reports forthcoming," Knight said. "It's premature. It's going to be quilted together."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Emergency medical services council gives Pinellas County funding plan tepid support 08/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 3:01pm]
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