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Largo leaders say no to proposed EMS cuts

Worried some residents won't get timely emergency care in the future, city leaders voted last week to oppose county cuts for emergency medical services.

Pinellas County collects property taxes to provide EMS countywide and pays 19 local fire departments to deliver first-responder emergency services. But this year, the county expects a shortfall in EMS tax revenue and plans to reduce what it pays those departments.

Largo expects to lose paramedics on one of two advanced life support units from a station at East Bay Drive and Belcher Road.

Losing a unit would mean about 38 percent of emergency medical calls would be handled by another station farther away, said Largo Fire Chief Mike Wallace.

Clearwater and St. Petersburg also oppose proposed cuts.

Countywide, departments estimate they'll lose about 65 paramedic positions, said Pinellas Park fire Chief Doug Lewis, head of the county's fire chiefs association.

Largo's resolution opposing cuts came on the heels of two county resolutions approved last month.

One of them established the response time fire departments must meet when going to medical calls to within 7 1/2 minutes on at least 90 percent of calls. The average response time now is 4 1/2 minutes, which is close to Largo's average.

Largo leaders are concerned that response times will grow. County leaders said the resolution merely formalizes a standard already in place by agreements.

In some cases, Wallace said, response times could climb to 5 1/2 or 6 minutes.

The county expects an $18 million shortfall in EMS tax revenue, chiefly because of Amendment 1 and decreasing property values. It plans to cover half of that through internal administrative cuts, reduced costs for an ambulance service contract and improved efficiencies in collections of ambulance bills, said Dick Williams, the county's director of public safety services.

The other half would come from cutting costs for contracting with departments.

Instead, Largo leaders want the county to use a small portion of its $38 million in EMS reserves. The city also wants the county to consider raising the EMS property tax.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo leaders say no to proposed EMS cuts 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:31am]
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