County officials, faced with the prospect of soaring budget deficits, are searching for ways to save every penny they can.
And they think they may have found one way to save money in the countywide emergency medical service — transfer one or more paramedic positions from Lealman to Pinellas Park.
The paramedic positions would be moved to Station 16 in Kenneth City. The transfer became possible when Pinellas Park reopened that station after taking over Kenneth City's fire delivery service last month from Lealman.
"We're actively studying what the impact would be of making Pinellas Park Engine 16 a … paramedic unit," said Craig Hare, the county's EMS division manager.
The key to any transfer, Hare said, would be to ensure that response times in the area would remain the same. Hare said the county is analyzing data to determine if that would be the case.
But it's unlikely that will be the case, Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham said.
Station 16 is between Lealman Stations 18 and 19. It is less than 2 miles from Lealman Station 18 and about a mile from Lealman Station 19. Graham said that mid-portion of the area accounts for the fewest calls in the Kenneth City/Lealman area. So it is unlikely that such a changeover would enhance coverage.
"I think it's going to stay just the way it is," Graham said. But, "I could be wrong."
Pinellas Park fire Chief Doug Lewis said his city has asked for county funding to place a full-time paramedic at Station 16. But, he said, it's up to the county to decide whether one is needed and whether it should be a new position or one transferred from elsewhere.
The county has several options. It could leave things as they are. It could simply finance a new paramedic position in Kenneth City, an unlikely possibility considering the expected budget crunch in the coming fiscal year.
Or it could move one or more of Lealman's four positions.
Moving just one position could save county taxpayers a bit more than $101,000 a year using this year's figures. That's because one paramedic position with Pinellas Park costs about $369,931 a year and the same position with Lealman costs about $470,989 annually.
The county's formula for each position includes 3.4 paramedics (one for each of the three 24-hour shifts and for the paramedic who replaces those who are ill or on vacation), plus support personnel, fuel, money for rescue vehicles and other such necessities. Each city and district has a different pay, benefit and pension plan which contributes to the differences in costs.
But the county could also decide to move one of Station 19's three positions to Pinellas Park, eliminate a second position and leave the third in place. The savings with that move would be substantial: About $571,550 each year.
Transferring positions has precedent. Last year, the county eliminated two paramedic positions from the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District and gave all the EMS service in the area to a nearby Seminole station, which provides the service at a lower cost.
It's too early to know if the county will do something similar in Lealman. Hare said it all hinges on the estimated volume of calls for help and Pinellas Park's ability to maintain a prompt response time.
Lewis said he believes that can be done. He said a decision could be made within the next 90 days.
Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.