Tough decisions and emotional issues await Pinellas County commissioners later this month when they consider shuffling paramedic positions and raising the tax rate for emergency medical services.
Both issues are scheduled to be heard at the commission's July 27 meeting, said Assistant County Administrator James Dates.
One proposal on the table is to shift a paramedic position from Lealman Fire Station 19, at 6694 46th Ave. N, to Kenneth City Station 16, at 4600 58th St. N, which is run by Pinellas Park. The two stations are about a mile apart.
In budget parlance, a paramedic position is actually 3.4 paramedics, one for each of the three 24-hour shifts, plus occasional substitutes, gas and other expenses.
County staff members say the move would improve service and save countywide taxpayers a minimum of $451,000.
Lealman is fighting the proposal, saying it would increase response times and jeopardize care to those in the far western portion of the district around the Five Towns condominium complex at 54th Avenue N near Park Street.
Lealman firefighters are trying to rally the community to help oppose the move. An angry crowd listened to a fire department presentation at a Lealman Community Association meeting last week and demanded that the paramedic position not be moved.
County staffers see the savings as especially critical this year. EMS, which is funded by a countywide tax, is facing a projected $11 million shortfall.
The staff has suggested four scenarios, all of which include increases in the property tax rate ranging from 18 percent to 47 percent. Two of the proposals include increased ambulance fees.
Although commissioners said they did not want to raise property taxes, they have already raised ambulance fees. With the drop in county property values, they may not be able to avoid an increase in property taxes. The only question might be: How high will the increase be?