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Sen. Jack Latvala: Comply with legislators' wishes on EMS committee

CLEARWATER — State Sen. Jack Latvala has threatened to wipe out Pinellas' emergency medical services system if the county administrator does not heed the wishes of the legislative delegation.

Latvala's warning came in a Friday email to County Administrator Bob LaSala.

Latvala, R-Clearwater, was irked that LaSala asked county commissioners to set up a committee to hire an accountant to vet two proposals to change the EMS system. Latvala had said he would appoint members of the committee.

"(County commissioner) Susan (Latvala) said you have the opinion based on my memo that the (County Commission) is supposed to appoint members of the committee," Sen. Latvala wrote in the email.

"That was NOT my intention nor do I believe it was the intention of the delegation. You are about one move away from me convening the delegation and suggesting that it is time to repeal the local bill, effective in three years!"

The local bill he refers to is the state statute that set up Pinellas' countywide EMS system. Eliminating it would effectively do away with the unified system — take oversight away from the county, let the fire districts that provide EMS go their own way and allow local districts to collect their own taxes.

LaSala on Tuesday blamed the situation on confusion. LaSala said he thought the commission was supposed to appoint members of the committee and was simply trying to get the committee put together by the Jan. 1 deadline.

LaSala said he has backed off now that Latvala's wishes are clear.

EMS has become an increasingly hot issue during the past year. LaSala has proposed changing the funding formula used to pay the county's 18 fire districts that provide EMS service to offset expected shortfalls in the EMS fund and keep property taxes from increasing.

Opponents say his plan will shift a countywide tax onto the shoulders of local property owners. They also say it will decrease the quality of service because it will take firefighter/paramedics and fire emergency vehicles off the street.

St. Petersburg, which stands to lose about $7 million of its $12 million EMS budget, has threatened to sue if the county implements LaSala's plan.

Many of the fire districts, fire chiefs and firefighters say a better solution is to let firefighters transport patients to the hospital. Two plans have been put on the table. LaSala says both plans are unworkable and will cost taxpayers more.

LaSala and the County Commission have asked the legislative delegation to change state law to allow his plan to go through. Firefighters have asked delegation members to pass a law to force the county to use fire transport.

Legislators refused to do either. Instead they recommended that the county refrain from making any changes to the system and that St. Petersburg hold off on lawsuits until an accountant could be hired to evaluate LaSala's plan, one of the firefighters' plans and the current system. Latvala said he would appoint a committee to choose the accountant. He wants the audit completed by July 1.

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

Sen. Jack Latvala: Comply with legislators' wishes on EMS committee 12/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 5:10pm]

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