LARGO – On July 25, city leaders directed staff to take legal action in a dispute with Pinellas County over $800,000 in EMS funding.
After negotiations in recent weeks, it turns out legal action won’t be necessary after all, because city commissioners agreed Aug. 8 during a work session to accept a deal with the county that will include the funding of units in the High Point and Ridgecrest areas over the next two years.
“I think it’s a great compromise,” City Manager Henry Schubert said. “The real stress on our system from a service delivery perspective and stress on our employees was getting that extra unit at Station 40.”
Since the threat of engaging the county in a dispute resolution process, Schubert said he had meetings with Assistant County Administrator John Bennett, who oversees the county Fire and EMS administration, and County Administrator Mark Woodard.
Their new offer included funding a standalone EMS unit at Fire Station 40, which is in the High Point area that receives calls from the Pinellas County Jail and Safe Harbor homeless shelter. Largo Fire Rescue Chief Shelby Willis said those two facilities account for more than 25 percent of the call volume for Station 40’s area – about 1,100 calls a year out of 4,000.
Schubert said the new unit would be called Medic 40 rather than Rescue 40 because the service would be delivered with an SUV purchased by the county, but it would have the same staff and equipment and respond to the same type of calls.
He said the county’s one caveat for funding Medic 40 was that if the call volume reduced in that area to the point where it would no longer qualify for a standalone EMS vehicle, then the funding would be taken away.
“Our argument all along with the county has been we meet the requirements for a second unit based on the call volume,” Schubert said. “So I think it’s only fair if they were successful in reducing the call volume out there, which would primarily be the jail and Safe Harbor, that funding would then cease and that unit would no longer be in service.”
Schubert said, however, that he and Willis were not optimistic that such a decrease would occur because call volumes have been significantly increasing throughout the city.
The county’s second concession was that, beginning in fiscal year 2019, it would fund Squad 39, which is currently a city-funded unit that responds to medical calls and vehicle accidents and assists the truck crew at structure fires.
“We have funded that unit for many years as a second EMS unit in Station 39, which is in the Ridgecrest area, but we have done so at our cost without any contribution from the county,” Schubert said. “So the county would pick up that cost 100 percent.”
Schubert said Bennett and Woodard also assured him that they would address EMS coordinator funding, which the city says it is owed $400,000 annually.
“They realize the existing formula is not equitable,” Schubert said. “The example we always use is that we answered a couple of hundred more calls last year than Clearwater did, but they received twice the EMS coordinator funding that we received. That is something they pledged. There’s no guarantees in writing on this, but they’ve pledged that they are going to address that issue in the next couple of years.”
Commissioner John Carroll said he was pleased with city staff’s efforts and that the deal is a good step forward.
“We are trying to represent our constituents here and make sure the Largo taxpayers are getting what they’re paying for, so thank you to everyone involved in this and I’m sure it’s not the end of the discussion but it’s a lot better than where we were last year,” he said.