Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

Lake City ducks County Commission EMS threat

Now that the truth be known, the county may wish to change its logo to
read, "Providing Advanced Life Support to Columbia County for all residents
and visitors."

For years Columbia County has threatened the City of Lake City with the elimination of EMS service within the city limits. Columbia County has bullied and cajoled both the city and county residents with the threat of the elimination of these emergency services. Many people have believed that Columbia County will or has withdrawn the requirement that the county EMS respond inside the city limits.

Earlier today, your reporter spoke with one county resident about the EMS situation inside of Lake City. His anger was palpable and his frustration evident and reflective of many, when he said, "If the county EMS doesn't respond when one of my relatives needs help in the city and something terrible happens, I am bringing my gun to a county commission meeting and it is not going to be nice. It is time the county cut this crap out, once and for all." (name withheld).

During the last city-county sit down the county was still looking for money from the city when the City Manager, Wendell Johnson told the County, "... the County is a licensed emergency care provider and they have an obligation, based on Wendell Johnson's opinion, to all the citizens of Columbia County, which includes the residents of Lake City, because we are county tax payers as well."

It is not just Wendell Johnson's opinion.

It's not just Wendell Johnson's opinion, but first, a look back into recent history at two important events in the Lake City – Columbia County EMS saga.

On January 31, 2008, at a county workshop, County Manager Dale Williams told the Board, "I think the Board of County Commissioners is really going to have a difficult decision. You are going to have to decide on what area the Certificate of Need is going to cover... if it covers the incorporated areas ... we know from an AGO, an attorney general's opinion, that you are expected to provide that service."

Also at that meeting Commissioner Ronald Williams once again said, "We are constantly getting calls from our constituents outside of the incorporated area – why are we subsidizing rescue within the city of Lake City?"

The county has never documented one of these calls or come up with one e-mail, letter, or anything else substantiating the Commissioner's statement.

County Attorney Feagle disagreed.

A short while later, during the same meeting, County Attorney, Marlin Feagle said that there is nothing to prohibit the County from amending its COPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – a requirement to run EMS). Mr. Feagle said that if the COPCN does not include the incorporated area, the County is not required to service that area.

On February 7, 2008, the Columbia County Commission, following the convenient interpretation of County Attorney Feagle, moved unanimously to apply for a COPCN that excluded the area of Lake City. Before the vote the Board agreed to amend the COPCN if the city and the county were able to resolve their differences.

For a year the county has been holding the Sword of Damocles over the heads of City and County residents alike, doing nothing to dispel the idea that the County can withhold EMS service from the area of Lake City.

Two weeks ago, on November 18th at the joint city-county meeting, your reporter asked the County Commission Chairman, Stephen Bailey, if the County was going to "turn off the [EMS] spigot" and not pick people up in Lake City unless they are from Columbia County, out of state or another country?"

Chairman Bailey answered, "I think it would be a jurisdiction issue... It is the jurisdiction of that area."

Your reporter (a county resident) followed up asking that even though he pays taxes and his share goes into the county coffer to pay for that EMS service, "If I fall down in the wrong jurisdiction, you are not going to come for me?"

Like deer caught in the headlights, neither Chairman Bailey, nor anyone on the county side answered the question.

Now the reason is obvious.

Sometime after February 7, 2008, after the county moved unanimously to apply for a COPCN that excluded the area of Lake City from its EMS service area, they called the state for approval before submitting all the paperwork.

The state denied Columbia County the right to remove or eliminate Lake City from its service area and the county is still operating with the same COPCN that was issued in 1998.

That appears not likely to change no matter what Columbia County says.