Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

County EMS headed off life support
The Attorneys - The Facts - The Managers - The Solution

Dale Williams, Wendell Johnson, Herbert Darby, and Marlin Feagle (clockwise) sat down for serious discussion to solve the long standing EMS city-county debate.

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."

The Attorneys

Long time County Attorney, Marlin Feagle called the meeting a fact finding meeting to come up with a recommendation.

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 do that."

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."

County 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.

The Facts

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 EMS service.

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 mentioned.

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 service.

The County's license, which is approved by the state, expires in March, 2010.

The Managers

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 reservation.

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 that.

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.

The Finale

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."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.