Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

New plan to trim EMS funding in Pinellas County

County Administrator Bob LaSala says he has a plan that could save up to $18 million in Pinellas' emergency medical services system.

It's a 10-year plan LaSala says will not only save money but also maintain the quality of EMS service and fix inequities in the system.

"We think we have arrived at a thoughtful (approach that has) accomplished that," LaSala said Friday to the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times. "I think we've been extremely, extremely reasonable in this approach."

The proposal, which will go before the County Commission during a workshop today, is the latest of several proposals made over the past few years with the goal of holding down costs of the $113.3 million system.

LaSala's proposal focuses on the costs of the 18 fire departments that contract with the county to provide first-response service at a cost of about $40 million. Those expenses are funded by a countywide property tax that is currently about 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. Thus, a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $92 a year.

The proposal has several parts:

• Change the way the county determines how much money each fire department receives so Pinellas pays only for what it needs to meet the system's minimum requirements.

Currently, the county pays the fire department whatever the department says it needs. Under the proposed system, the county would establish a new base. Specifically, the county would stop paying for entire 24-hour shifts of certain firefighter/paramedics if the data indicated that much staffing was unnecessary. In other words, if the data indicated the county only needed a certain crew of firefighter/paramedics for 12 hours a day, that's all the county would pay for. If the department wanted to keep those firefighter/paramedics on duty for 24 hours, then it would have to pay the additional 12 hours from city or district funds.

•Freeze payments for three years.

•Cap the increases on payments starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Most departments would see no funding change under the proposal. Three — Palm Harbor, Seminole and Tarpon Springs — could see increases because the county believes more service is needed in those areas. Seminole's increase would come from increased service to the Redington beaches area, which that city serves.

Five departments — St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Lealman — would lose money.

St. Petersburg stands to lose about $1.1 million annually if the base is reset as LaSala proposes. That accounts for about 46.7 percent of the overall $2.3 million that would be cut out of the system.

"We're trying to make it happen," Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "Hopefully, we can make the numbers work so we can be a good partner with the county."

St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse agreed the proposal was more palatable than past suggestions that saw the city taking bigger budget hits.

"We have something to talk about here," Nurse said. "This is a realistic number."

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said the $669,000 that would be lost the first year for his department would be a "softer landing" than past proposals. The reduced payment, he said, provides an incentive to hold down costs, particularly when it comes to negotiating salaries and pensions.

But Horne acknowledged that the proposal is not likely to be popular with all. And he conceded that, while it would maintain service at the county-mandated level that has firefighters getting to emergencies within 71/2 minutes 90 percent of the time, it could mean the county's average response time — currently 41/2 minutes — will go up.

Macho Liberti, former secretary-treasurer of the Largo Professional Firefighters, said that by increasing the time it takes to get to patients, the county is running the risk of having Pinellas' EMS system "go from one of the best to just sufficient or average." It's an attempt, he said, to shift costs to the cities and districts in order to maintain the current level of service.

"Any cut in funding could mean less units and personnel at the ready for any emergency that may arise, fire or EMS-related," Liberti said. "This is not a funding issue. It is a philosophical issue of what level of public safety services the county and cities want to provide and who will be on the hook to force citizens to pay for it — the county or the service providers."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

Comments
The Daystarter: Kucherov gets it in gear; student protestors reach Tallahassee; and St. Petersburg’s black pioneers get their own documentary.

The Daystarter: Kucherov gets it in gear; student protestors reach Tallahassee; and St. Petersburg’s black pioneers get their own documentary.

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• Re...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Documentary pays homage to St. Pete’s black pioneers (w/video)

Documentary pays homage to St. Pete’s black pioneers (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — In the 1940s, David and Archie Boston grew up together in the Gas Plant neighborhood and hung out together on 22nd Street S, where black residents created their own main street, their own haven, in the midst of a segregated city.The ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Today’s WriteLane podcast: Narratives off the news

Today’s WriteLane podcast: Narratives off the news

Today’s WriteLane is about finding narratives off the news.The weekly podcast features Lane DeGregory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, discussing her stories and answering questions. The focus is on craft.In this week’s epis...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Florida lawmaker’s aide fired after saying outspoken Parkland students are actors

Florida lawmaker’s aide fired after saying outspoken Parkland students are actors

It bubbled up from the darkest online corners then began to take off: conspiracy theories about Parkland students who’ve spent the past week on TV demanding action on the gun violence that killed 17 and reawakened a national debate.By late Tuesday af...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 20

Tuesday’s scoreboardSoftballAdmiral Farragut 17, St. Petersburg Cath. 0BaseballGulf Coast HEAT 9, Canterbury 4Calvary Chr. 6, Lakeland Chr. 1
Updated: 6 hours ago
Officers: When an active shooter attacks, survive by taking action

Officers: When an active shooter attacks, survive by taking action

LARGO — An Illinois teacher used confrontation. A campus safety monitor in Seattle attacked with pepper spray and physical force. An assistant football coach in Indiana shouted as he chased him into the woods.All were civilians who took down an activ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Under a new law, some public schools will be managed by companies. Pinellas is getting ready

Under a new law, some public schools will be managed by companies. Pinellas is getting ready

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members are not happy about the prospect of having to hand over academic control at three struggling schools to a private company, and paying the firm up to $2 million on top of it. But that’s the course they must...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Career Q&A: Nut allergy is a serious workplace concern

Career Q&A: Nut allergy is a serious workplace concern

Q: My manager has recently started eating nuts at her desk, which is located right next to mine. Unfortunately, I have a serious nut allergy, so any contact with them could produce a life-threatening reaction. Even foods which contain tiny pieces of ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lawsuit accuses FSU fraternity, national chapter of negligence in pledge’s death

Lawsuit accuses FSU fraternity, national chapter of negligence in pledge’s death

The parents of Andrew Coffey, the Florida State University student who died from alcohol poisoning after an apparent hazing episode last year, have sued the national Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity and nine of its members for their son’s death.Coffey, who wa...
Updated: 8 hours ago