Pinellas EMS tax rate could go up by 17.6 percent

The county administrator plans to ask Pinellas commissioners Tuesday for a 17.6 percent increase in property taxes to pay for emergency medical services.

The full increase is likely not the final decision for the coming fiscal year, Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said Thursday.

The number is designed to set a maximum increase while commissioners grapple with decisions over ways to hold down costs.

Among those suggestions: Moving a paramedic position from Lealman fire Station 19 to Kenneth City Station 16; eliminating another paramedic position at Station 19; defunding the Squad 26 vehicle in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue fleet; withdrawing funding from Bayflite; and using surplus money from the cities' and districts' current EMS budgets to offset money needed in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

If the County Commission follows all of LaSala's suggestions, the EMS tax rate would remain unchanged at about $0.5832 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, or $58 for a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

If commissioners decide to adopt none of LaSala's ideas, the tax rate would reach the cap that commissioners are expected to set Tuesday. That's about $0.6860 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. For a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption, EMS taxes would be $69 annually. A final decision will come in August.

The most controversial of LaSala's suggestions is to eliminate a paramedic position and move a second position from Station 19, at 6694 46th Ave. N, to Station 16, at 4600 58th St. N in Kenneth City, which is run by Pinellas Park. The two stations are about a mile apart.

The Lealman Fire District has lobbied residents, particularly those in the Five Towns area near 54th Avenue N and Park Street, to protest the move. The district says the change will increase run times, jeopardize lives and increase taxes.

County officials say that's not so. They say that first response EMS should not change because it will still be run out of Station 19. Response times in Kenneth City, the mid-portion of the Lealman Fire District, and parts of Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg will actually improve, they say.

The county also says the move will save money because Pinellas Park charges the county less per paramedic position than Lealman. A paramedic position, in budget talk, is actually 3.4 paramedics, one for each of the three 24-hour shifts, plus occasional substitutes, gas and other expenses.

The county has estimated the savings to be $451,000 in countywide taxes. Pinellas Park will receive about $300,000 if the change is made. Lealman will lose in excess of $800,000.

LaSala said the county plans a presentation about the proposal at Tuesday's meeting to explain the numbers and why staff members believe the move is a good one.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@sptimes.com.

IF YOU GO

Meeting is Tuesday

The Pinellas County Commission is scheduled to set caps on property tax rates for the coming fiscal year during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the Fifth Floor Assembly Room, Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater. For information, call (727) 464-3485.

Pinellas EMS tax rate could go up by 17.6 percent 07/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 5:55pm]

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