By just one vote, the Pinellas County Commission took the right approach this week in hiring a consultant to study how to make the county's emergency medical services operation more efficient and less expensive. If $300,000 in public money is going to be spent on a private consultant, the least that taxpayers ought to expect is a thorough review of all of the options.
The county's current EMS system that uses both fire departments and a private contractor is no longer affordable, and County Administrator Bob LaSala proposed reasonable changes last year. That triggered a fight with St. Petersburg, some fire departments and the firefighter unions that are more interested in their cash flow and job protection. It's tempting to say wake us up when the gridlock ends and somebody decides something, but EMS is an essential service that demands attention to the details.
The county staff already has poked enough holes in a proposal by some firefighters for fire departments to take over emergency transport to hospitals from the private contractor. That hasn't silenced the critics and conspiracy theorists. LaSala is understandably frustrated, but an independent study that analyzes all of the options is the only way out now. It's an awfully expensive way to clear the air, and it delays a solution to a festering financial mess. But there's no other way forward. Commissioners Susan Latvala, John Morroni, Karen Seel and Ken Welch reasonably voted for the wide-ranging study by the consultant. The conservative obstructionists who voted against it: Nancy Bostock, Neil Brickfield (who are both seeking re-election in November) and Norm Roche. Remember: Elections have consequences.