As Pinellas County property values have decreased and along with it tax revenues, county expenses are increasing. One pressing budgetary issue that Pinellas has been trying to address over the past few years is its $103-million EMS system. Yet, the time for debate is running out, and decisions need to be made.
Understanding this, Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to spend around $300,000 on a study that aims to help the county decide how best to address the costly emergency medical services system in Pinellas. Actually, agreed might not be the best description as the decision was far from unanimous, winning by a narrow 4 to 3 vote following a 2 ½ hour debate.
A particularly contentious point and significant part of the debate surrounded County Administrator Bob LaSala’s insistence that the consulting firm, Fitch & Associates, only study a plan that LaSala proposed last year versus providing a full analysis of the current system along with the option of allowing firefighter/paramedics to transport patients to the hospital to replace the currently contracted EMS transport company, Sunstar.
The LaSala plan, presented for the first time last year, intends to equalize firefighter-paramedics salaries and reduce manpower and rescue vehicles on the streets. When introduced, the plan seemed controversial at best as numerous fire officials maintain that the plan would reduce the quality of care.
Commissioners Ken Welch and Norm Roche were firm that they did not support the LaSala plan, Tuesday. They argued that LaSala wants the commission to accept and implement a plan that the county never voted on.
And so, after the 2 ½ hour discussion, Welch, Susan Latvala, John Morroni and Karen Seel voted to hire Fitch with the broader scope of the analysis not just the LaScala Plan. Nancy Bostock, Neil Brickfield and Roche voted no on hiring Fitch at all.
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