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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City EMS Countdown - City weighing next move

Last night the Lake City Council amended their agenda to deal with the pending elimination of Columbia County EMS from Lake City. Mayor Steve Witt explained that everyone is aware that the County sent out a Request for Qualifications to supply EMS service to the whole County, minus Lake City. He then opened the floor for comments from both the public and the City Council.

EMS expert, Toby Witt led off the discussion. He explained that he met with City Manager Johnson earlier in the day. 

Mr. Witt said, "I don't know if you realize it, they [the County] are tying your hands in several ways. They are forcing you to address the issue of EMS on your own, by forcing you to ask for a COPCN."

Florida Statute § 401.25 (d) The applicant has obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from each county in which the applicant will operate. In issuing the certificate of public convenience and necessity, the governing body of each county shall* consider the recommendations of municipalities within its jurisdiction. (emphasis added)

Mr. Witt continued, telling the Council that he called his County Commissioner, Stephen Bailey and that Commissioner Bailey told him that the County had no intention of issuing the City a COPCN for interfacility transport within the City. "That is a key component you need if you consider taking up EMS. EMS on its own, if run right can almost break even, but EMS with interfacility transport could turn a profit. They are tying your hands... They're telling you they are not going to give you any control over who takes the patients out of your hospitals, both of which are in the city limits."

The public is best served by public sector EMS

Your reporter is also a citizen of Columbia County. He feels that the public is best served by an EMS that is run by the public sector.

He told the City Council that the folks that are presently in EMS are your friends, neighbors and relatives. They sit next to you in church and their children go to school with your children. 

He asked the City Council, "Who would you rather have responding to calls for emergency service when you're standing holding your baby in your arms - somebody who comes in from Tallahassee or Jacksonville to do a 24** hour tour, or someone who is your neighbor?"

Your reporter concluded by begging the City to file an injunction to stop the County from doing something which is clearly not in the public interest for the citizens of Lake City or the citizens of Columbia County.

Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Witt gives everyone the chance to be heard.

Mayor Witt began with the City's position

Mayor Witt told the Council that he saw a brief outline that Mr. Johnson [City Manager Johnson] had written as a response to the County's letter and he would endorse it. He said these are crucial issues and we are all County residents. This is a big decision. A lot of money and personal safety is involved.

Mayor Witt said, "I think we need to ask that they [the County] give us viable time to look at the options. I would ask that Mr. Johnson send a letter tomorrow to give us that time."

City Manager Wendell Johnson
City Manager Johnson

City Manager Johnson weighed in: "I've drafted a letter that says the City is taking appropriate steps to determine our options should they move forward with the privatization.  They have told us in the notice from Mr. Feagle that they will give us time to make alternative arrangements. Based on a conversation that I've had with Mr. Darby [City Attorney Herbert Darby] today, the Mayor and several people, I believe the County is going to move forward with their initiative and believe from a legal perspective ... that we cannot stop it between now and Thursday."

CM Johnson continued, "... We can either privatize ourselves or we can go into business for ourselves. I have taken the liberty to draft up an RFP to provide to the City an assessment of what our options are."

City Councilman George Ward
Councilman Ward was not happy about the situation.

Councilman George Ward – This is arbitrary and capricious

Councilman Ward: "I still think this goes back five or six years that we owe them $250,000 a year for EMS service. I think this is pretty arbitrary and capricious on their part to say - All right city we're cutting you all out completely, but yet we're going to continue providing to the town of Fort White. What is the difference between Fort White and Lake City? We all live in the County. Somebody's going to have to address that question for me. And I don't know if we can get that done in the RFP that you're talking about."

CM Johnson replied, "That's a question that I would like to have the answer to as well... I find it's very unpleasant ... it's just indiscriminate and without merit. I'm not opposed to privatization, however, I don't think I've ever experienced a situation where a certain sector of the citizenship was excluded without an understanding of why."

Legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby
Legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby was cautious.

City Attorney Darby said there will be a period of time to study the material presented to the County and the decision that they make. After that time the City can determine what legal action it desires to take and concluded, "I think we would have time to do that."

Mayor Witt: "In other words, they are not going to stop EMS Friday morning."

Councilman Ward: "They're saying that they're going to take requests for qualifications and yes City – we're going to give you time to either privatize or do it yourself. We're not giving you a chance to say - wait a minute County, you can't do that. We are already paying County taxes. Next year I think I'm going to strike my County taxes. I pay County taxes. We all do.

Mayor Witt: "I've been arguing with them for three of four years.  It makes absolutely no sense."

Councilman Ward: "It makes no sense."

City Councilwoman Melinda Moses
Councilwoman Moses also was not happy about the situation.

Councilwoman Moses: "So they are just choosing what parts of the County they want to serve - their County."

Councilman Ward: "It's just totally arbitrary."

Councilwoman Moses: "Totally arbitrary."

Councilman Ward: "They're going to have to prove to me that they're not taking one dime of my tax money to support that."

Mayor Witt: "They've been saying they've been using tax money to support this for years. So apparently they're using our money."

Mayor Witt hearing no more comments asked if there was anything else. Hearing none he said, "Mr. Johnson's going to write the letter."

* In law, the word "shall" = the word "must." It is not discretionary. Lake City has never held the County to the law.

** Correction Feb 24  05:55 pm: "48" hours changed to "24" hours.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On February 24, 2011, RB of Lake City wrote:

There's an old saying "What goes around comes around".

I remember a time in the not so distant past when the City operated the Fire Department and charged the County for services rendered. As it came to pass, it was determined the City was overcharging the County, and the fight was on.
Of course the City refused to budge, much like in this senario. At that time the County didn't stand around and whine. They took action, and so was born "The Columbia County Fire Dept.".The best thing that ever happened for fire fighting in Columbia County.

Now it's the City's turn. Buck up ladies and gents, time to start paying for services rendered, one way or the other. RB


On February 24, 2011, DD from Ichetucknee wrote:

I would like to say that I would rather that the county not privatize the EMS.

That being said, I think your comments need correction. As someone familiar with practices of private ambulance services, I know that shifts are usually 24 hr or a lot of times only 12 hrs.

Also, at least two of the bids placed are from entities that already have a presence in the county and are both close to both hospitals. Both have multiple employees that live inside the county.            DD  From Ichetucknee


On February 25, 2011, Robert Bellamy wrote:

Pardon me R B, but the last time that I checked, the city of Lake City is not a private employer, it is funded by the tax payers of the city. Being a prior employee of the city, you should know this.  Robert T. Bellamy


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