CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission is scheduled to consider two items this morning that could change the way fire departments deliver emergency medical services. The proposals have prompted outraged howls from various corners. Here, in a nutshell, are the proposals and issues.
The system: Pinellas County collects property taxes to provide emergency medical services to residents. The county pays that money to local fire departments to hire the paramedics and buy the equipment necessary to supply those services.
The problem: Pinellas is facing an $18 million shortfall in EMS funding caused in part by the effects of Amendment 1 and in part by decreasing property values that reduce the amount of taxes the county collects. The county says it has two options: Raise property taxes or find a way to cut costs.
The county's proposed solution: Two resolutions. One formally establishes the level of service the county's 19 fire departments must meet: arrive within 7 minutes and 30 seconds of an emergency call 90 percent of the time. This item would involve shifting some equipment and staffing because some departments now exceed that level of service. In other words, in some cases response time could be longer than it is now. The other item would set the rules the county would use in deciding how much money to give each department. Among the changes: The departments would have to provide line-by-line budgets to get the money, use it only for emergency medical services and return any money that had not been used.
The county says: This will increase efficiency, cut costs and make expenditures more transparent to the public without raising property taxes.
Objections: Cities, firefighters, fire chiefs and some others worry the changes will reduce the level of service. Some special districts and advisory groups say they have not seen the proposals and want to see them before taking a stand. At least one group wants the county to hold its vote for 30 days to make sure everyone gets a chance to see what's on the table and evaluate the proposed changes.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.