ST. PETERSBURG — During an impassioned discussion Thursday, the City Council accused Pinellas County officials of placing budget concerns before public safety by making changes to the countywide Emergency Medical Service system.
"They are basically saying that the budget is more important than lifesaving mechanisms and they are willing to let people die," said City Council member Jim Kennedy. "I just find that totally unacceptable."
The power struggle between Pinellas County and St. Petersburg revolves around an effort to streamline the system and plug up an expected $18 million budget deficit next year. This year, the county took $14 million out of savings to balance the emergency medical budget.
The county's proposal could lead to the shifting of resources to standardize response time and would require local governments to present line-by-line budgets to receive a share of the fund.
City officials say they stand to lose 24 firefighter paramedics if the plan goes through. They also worry response times could climb by at least three minutes. The city has threatened to sue.
County officials said city leaders are overreacting and urged them to continue negotiations. Response times for the neediest will not change, County Commissioner Ken Welch said.
"Let's stop the accusations, the name calling and the fear mongering," he said. "Anybody can file a lawsuit, but it would be much better to work together constructively to make the changes to EMS."
Council member Bill Dudley urged residents to call and e-mail the county to complain.
"I just can't believe that we can sit by and act like sheep in the slaughter and no one is saying anything," said Dudley.
The city filed a legal motion in January to try to stop the plan. The motion was tabled.
But the City Council passed a resolution Thursday instructing its legal department to prepare for a court battle.
Not everyone on the council was ready for that.
Council members Herb Polson and Karl Nurse urged their colleagues to seek a compromise.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected]