ST. PETERSBURG — The city stands to lose about $1.1 million annually under a county proposal to change the way Pinellas' emergency medical services system is funded.
But Mayor Rick Kriseman said the county is already paying St. Petersburg less than the city is entitled to under a 2009 county ordinance. If the county would use the money St. Petersburg is entitled to receive under that ordinance as a starting point, Kriseman said he's willing to embrace the new system.
The net result — St. Petersburg would lose no funding and the county would pay no more than it is now.
"It's essentially a wash," Kriseman said. "We wouldn't see an additional reduction over and above what we're already incurring."
Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said he could not comment on the details of Kriseman's response to the proposed changes.
"I have not heard from Rick on the details," LaSala said. "We appreciate his spirit of cooperation and collaboration."
LaSala said he welcomed the chance to discuss the issues with Kriseman.
County commissioners on Tuesday gave LaSala the go-ahead to change the way EMS is funded. Included in the changes are a cut to the budgets of five — St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Lealman — of the 18 fire departments that the county pays to provide first response EMS service. St. Petersburg stands to lose about $1.1 million annually as a result.
Other savings — estimated by LaSala to total as much as $60 million over 10 years — come from a three-year freeze on budgets and a cap on the percentage increase in EMS budgets in the seven years after the freeze is lifted.
City managers and fire chiefs from Largo, Pinellas Park and Lealman say they cannot comment on the cuts, which total about $2.3 million over the five departments. They want to meet with county staffers to discuss local issues before meeting with their elected boards to craft responses to the county.
Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said he supports the county's proposal but said he's waiting until after the March municipal elections to meet with his council members to see what they want to do.
Kriseman wrote LaSala a letter late Tuesday saying he thought the proposed cuts to St. Petersburg's budget — about 47 percent of the total to all five departments — was disproportionate and unfair given the volume of calls the city handles — about 30 percent of the 174,000 EMS calls the county receives each year.
At the same time, Kriseman said, he's willing to cooperate with the effort to hold down costs and would recommend that his city accept the funding component of the county's plan. But that acceptance depends on the county figuring the changes on the basis of what St. Petersburg should have been receiving under the 2009 ordinance.
The city, he said, had agreed to receive less than it was entitled to under that rule because it was trying to help the county hold down costs.
"We've been reducing (costs) for the last five years," Kriseman said. "We're not getting any credit for that."
Other cities and fire districts did not make the same concessions, he said, and so their cuts under the new proposal would be made from EMS budgets that were in compliance with the 2009 rules. It's only fair, he said, that cuts to St. Petersburg's $13.1 million EMS budget are made using the same baseline year as the others. Otherwise, he said, the city would be penalized for trying to be a good fiscal partner by getting cuts on top of cuts.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.