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Pinellas County Commission seeks change in law on EMS funding

County commissioners have agreed to ask the Legislature to rewrite state law so they can change the way they pay for emergency medical services in Pinellas.

Under current law, the county must provide enough money to make sure that the level of service does not fall below that which existed in 1989, when the statute was passed, without consent of the fire districts that provide EMS service. County officials have interpreted that to mean they must give the districts whatever amount of money they ask for with no questions asked.

Now, however, County Administrator Bob LaSala says the EMS system is facing bankruptcy in 2013 if nothing is done. The solution, he says, is increasing income and cutting back expenses.

Last month, the commission agreed to increase the countywide property tax rate for EMS by 46 percent. And last week, LaSala increased ambulance fees by 3.3 percent to bring more money into the system.

Next, LaSala wants to change the funding for the 18 fire districts by, among other things, paying for fewer firefighter-paramedics and paying the countywide average salary and benefits for those in the system rather than reimbursing their actual salaries and benefits.

But to make that change without fear that one of the districts will file a lawsuit objecting to it, state law must be altered. The proposal is to have the Legislature change the EMS statute to allow the county to determine what the funding level should be.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, have agreed to sponsor the bill. It must be approved by the Pinellas County legislative delegation and the Legislature and signed by the governor before it would become law.

If it does pass this coming session of the Legislature, that would clear the way for LaSala's funding proposal to take effect Oct. 1, 2012.

The legislative delegation and the County Commission are scheduled to meet Oct. 25 to discuss both the EMS proposal and other initiatives the county wants lawmakers to pursue. The commission is scheduled earlier that day to discuss LaSala's overall proposal. Both meetings are open to the public.

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

Pinellas County Commission seeks change in law on EMS funding 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 4:33pm]
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