County EMS headed off life
The Attorneys - The Facts - The
Managers - The Solution
Columbia County, FL (posted
February 3, 2010, at 01:45pm)
Dale Williams, Wendell Johnson, Herbert Darby, and
Marlin Feagle (clockwise) sat down for serious
discussion to solve the long standing EMS city-county
Tuesday morning, February 2, 2010, may mark the end
game in a city – county controversy that has been
stretched out for years. At 10 am in the county annex,
County Manager Dale Williams, City Manager Wendell
Johnson and their respective attorneys met for a
preliminary sit down in what Dale Williams called "a
meeting for informational purposes."
Long time County Attorney, Marlin Feagle called the
meeting a fact finding meeting to come up with a
Long time City Attorney, Herbert Darby makes a point, as
County Attorney Marlin Feagle researches a point.
The legendary City Attorney, Herbert Darby said, "I
was requested to determine what the legal issues are....
Based on my review... there is no requirement that
mandates the county or the city to supply [emergency]
medical services. At the present time the county has a
license and a COPCN [Certificate of Public Convenience
and Necessity] issued by the [county] Board to itself.
That provides the right for the county to provide
emergency medical services, in the field of
transportation, to the whole county."
Mr. Darby continued, "If the county chooses it can
apply for a different license to have issued a COPCN
that would be applicable to only a portion, such as the
unincorporated area, as distinguished from what it is
now for the whole county. And they would have a right to
County Manager Williams: "On everything that I’ve
been advised Mr. Darby, I think we do not disagree on
any point that you just made... That’s exactly as we’ve
been advised from day one."
Mr. Darby followed up: "That’s the legal position I’m
taking and I have advised the City Council."
Attorney Feagle agreed: "And that’s my understanding. We
talked about this when the issue came up and was going
to the Attorney General back in 2007. At that time the
county’s advanced life support license ... issued by the
Fl Dept of Health... was getting ready to expire on
March 30, 2008 and we discussed among the county
representatives whether our renewal would include the
city. And the decision was made to include the city and
we knew when we did that, that we would be required and
wanted to provide service to the city residents and
people in the city... The county understood when we got
our renewal license we would have to provide a service
to the city.
In September of 2007, Mr. Darby and Mr. Feagle were
on different sides of the dance floor.
On September 4, 2007, City Attorney Darby told the
Florida Attorney General, "It is the City’s position
that legislative acts do require the County to provide
emergency medical services for all county citizens...
Most importantly, under §401.45, if the County is
licensed to operate advanced or basic life support
within the county, it may not deny treatment or
transport for an emergency medical condition."
On November 15, 2007, County Manager Dale Williams,
commenting on a Florida Attorney General Opinion,
requested by the county, commented that the "opinion
would tend to indicate that if the county were to
exclude the City of Lake City from the service area when
issuing itself a COPCN, the county would not be legally
obligated to provide services within the city."
On January 31, 2008, County Attorney Feagle told the
County Commission that nothing would prohibit the County
from amending its COPCN and eliminating the City from
its service area.
On February 7, 2008, after Commissioner Ronald
Williams reminded the Board that it was their consensus
on Jan 31st, supra, that the city be eliminated from
County's EMS service area, the Board voted unanimously
to exclude Lake City and its residents from the County's
Shortly after that, the
County marched forward, contacted the State and
attempted to modify their COPCN and remove Lake City and
its residents from the county's service area.
The Columbia County Commission, led by Ronald
Williams, got blown out of the water by the State of
Florida, when it rejected the County's request to remove
Lake City from the County's Service Area.
The State explained that in order to make a change to
the service area the county would have to show that they
issued a COPCN to somebody else. Then that provider,
along with the change, would have had to have been
approved by the State.
Nowhere in any county record, nor at any public
meeting was County's rejection by the state ever
This is standard operating procedure for Columbia
County, only this time in the most indecent of
omissions, the "good ole boys" of Columbia County left
70,000 residents wondering about their emergency medical
The County's license, which is approved by the state,
expires in March, 2010.
County Manager Williams said that the County EMS
crews are maxed out and are going to hit about 12,000
calls this year. "They cannot continue to perform at
that pace and we need a fifth crew."
City Manager Johnson said:
I think the most
important issue is service. My position this morning is
about service. It’s not about money.
I’ve looked at the history of EMS and Columbia County
back to the early seventies. It is an interesting
history. There is one common denominator that I’ve
observed ... There is a little bit more to this than
just money. There has always been an understanding that
there is an appropriate cost sharing factor for the
service. I support that without any hesitation or
I know that the residents of the city -- we as a city
government -- are not expecting anything for nothing.
When the EMS system was turned over to the county in
1998, my understanding is that all the assets were
conveyed over to the county, pretty much at no cost, you
inherited the system. And since that time the county has
maintained the operational cost as well as paid the
capitol cost of keeping the system serviceable.
I know the city has a moral obligation to pay for its
fair share of services. I know that. I think we all know
We need the service. We all know that.
What I hope we can gain this morning is a consensus
among the group. An approach to come up with what would
be the best for all citizens.
I would like to talk about what would be a possible
solution that you could be comfortable with. How we
could go about determining what’s the fair cost
assessment for services to the city.
County Manager Williams explained that the $250,000
amount was the amount the County was raising from the
City before the special assessment for EMS went away. He
said, "No one has ever figured out a measured cost based
on response [number of calls]."
Then, with the knowledge that the county cannot just
eliminate the city from its EMS area of coverage, at
least not without the expense of major litigation and or
approval from the state, County Manager Dale Williams
said, "I do not have a problem going to my board and
saying it’s time to apply for a new COPCN. I do not have
a problem recommending that we continue to do it on a
county wide basis.
The Solution - Time to move forward
County Manger Dale Williams, left and City Manager
Wendell Johnson, right.
County Manager Williams continued, "I would like to
ask if I do that, that you give a pledge that says that
I will do my very best at least in the coming year, to
try to help some way financially with those costs.
The County Manager got his pledge.
This coming Friday morning, February 5th, the County
Manager and the City Manager have agreed to meet behind
closed doors, to slice and dice the treasure of the
working families of Columbia County and begin to work
out a presentable solution to present to their
respective boards and the public.
Additionally, the Managers Williams and Johnson, with
the consent and blessing of their respective attorneys
Mr. Feagle and Mr. Darby, agreed to agree on a third
party consultant to do an independent cost analysis of
the EMS funding issue beginning with the first piece of
EMS equipment the City purchased until the present time.
If done by a reputable non biased consultant this
study should include real time factors associated with
equipment, real estate, depreciation, service calls etc.
This should prove to be an interesting study and an eye
opener for everyone.
As the Observer went to press, an optimistic City
Manager Johnson told the Observer, "I see no reason why
this should not be a simple process if everybody looks
at fairness and the cost analysis. I think this should
be easy to resolve."
County Manager Dale Williams was also optimistic,
when he told the Observer, "I feel that there is a
solution on the horizon and with a professional third
party consultant organizing the data, we will all be on
an even playing field."