Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: St. Petersburg's EMS reform roadblocks

Electing a new mayor and two new City Council members in St. Petersburg has not changed the city's parochial approach to emergency medical services. City Hall remains as uncooperative as ever in refusing to help make the countywide EMS system more cost-efficient and ensure its long-term sustainability. The City Council's overheated rhetoric Thursday set a bad example for other cities, and it should be more open to compromise on EMS and less protective of the city's bloated, poorly run Fire Department.

To recap, Pinellas County has a countywide EMS system that sends both the local fire department and a private ambulance company on 911 calls. The firefighters-paramedics respond first, and the private ambulance takes patients to the hospital. The system works well, but it is too expensive. The county has kept it running the last several years by using reserves and increasing the EMS property tax rate, but that approach will not work forever.

Yet through a series of private consultants and county proposals, St. Petersburg has fought Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala for more than four years as he has tried to cut EMS costs. The county's latest proposal has a more gradual impact than previous proposals and at least initially would cut St. Petersburg a reasonable $1.1 million over three years. That would be on top of a three-year budget freeze for the entire system, followed by a cap on future increases. But even this is too much for Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council, where too much of the talk at this week's meeting was about threatening lawsuits and asking the Legislature to let St. Petersburg leave the county system. Either approach would be irresponsible, cost the city taxpayers more money and have a negative ripple effect in a county that needs more consensus-building and fewer fiefdoms.

St. Petersburg is exploiting the fundamental flaw in the EMS system: There is no accountability required by the fire departments on the spending side. The county is essentially required to pay whatever the departments bill to EMS — even when the St. Petersburg Fire Department is expensive and mismanaged. St. Petersburg has the highest average salary and pension costs in the county for firefighters/paramedics, and Kriseman's transition team recommended Chief Jim Large be fired. A Tampa Bay Times investigation found last year that for decades firefighters had incredible flexibility to swap shifts with co-workers with no oversight by supervisors by trading hours or paying cash. Large defended the policy, then tightened it only after the newspaper's report. The transition team also concluded the Fire Department has high administrative costs and too few minorities in top jobs, yet Kriseman has failed to act in nearly three months in office.

Council Chairman Bill Dudley complained the city is being bullied by the county on EMS, but St. Petersburg is playing that role. The threats about the city pulling out of the countywide system are just that, and they are not helpful at a time when the city and the county should be working together on the mass transit referendum, caring for the homeless and other regional issues. If St. Petersburg gets away with avoiding efforts to reduce EMS costs, watch for other cities to walk away from a compromise as well.

Here's an idea: If St. Petersburg wants to ask the Legislature to revisit state law creating the countywide EMS system, fine. But instead of letting St. Petersburg run its own EMS system, let's have the Legislature create a countywide fire department that would standardize both fire and EMS service throughout the county. That would end the bickering over who pays for what service, and it would surely be more cost-efficient than St. Petersburg's Fire Department is now.

Comments

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18