Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

Columbia County - Lake City EMS debate
Soon everybody will be a winner

On Monday morning, February 8, 2010, at 10:00am, County Manager Dale Williams and City Manager Wendell Johnson met in the Courthouse Annex conference room to work out a plan to resolve the longstanding City-County EMS debate. After some small talk about the weekend's Super Bowl, they got right down to business.

Both managers agreed that the issue was about funding and that once this issue was worked out, nothing will change. EMS will function the same.

CM Williams said there was some talk that before the morning's sit-down that a deal had already been cut. Both managers agreed that this was not the case.

CM Johnson said that once he and the County Manager reach an understanding everything should come pretty easy, also telling CM Williams that he was sure that a cost benefit analysis was the way to go.

CM Johnson also recommended that the county-city use an independent consultant with whom neither of them have relationships.

CM Johnson said that the $250,000 obligation that the county believes the city owes should be paid. CM Johnson also said that the obligation may be $450,000 or a $150,000, "I don't know. That is what the cost benefit analysis will tell us."

CM Johnson said that he personally thought the $250,000 number was pretty close based on his own crunching of the numbers and he also voiced concern that if Lake City is excluded from the EMS county response area the county will lose a lot of money on calls that they will no longer respond to inside the city.

CM Williams said that he agreed with the City Manager. He said his main purpose is to resolve a major part of the situation that goes beyond funding and explained that the County's EMS staff is being run ragged with the amount of calls they are handling.

CM Williams said, "The best thing from my viewpoint is to have a cooperative agreement."

CM Johnson was still concerned that the County Commission would reject the cost benefit analysis after it was completed. He asked, "Do you think the County Commission will be bound by the results of the analysis as far as cost sharing?"

CM Williams, "I've not asked them, but I think they would." He continued, "If there is a third party impartial assessment, I don't see why they wouldn't."

The Details

The managers agreed that the county and the city will split the cost of the independent analysis equally and they have until the end of the budget year to get the situation resolved.

The city will take care of putting the RFP for the consultant out to bid and a committee from both governing bodies will hire the consultant from the responses.

CM Williams said, "I want you to be more comfortable with who we pick than we are."

CM Johnson reiterated his earlier remarks saying that the consultant would be someone with whom neither of them had previous relationships.

CM Williams repeated that his goal is to enhance the EMS department with the money received from the city. "My goal is to do something for those employees who are running way too many calls."

CM Johnson asked if the presence of an EMS unit in the city would continue once everything was settled.

CM Williams said that would have to be decided.

The Managers agreed, after a short conversation, that the COPCN (Certificate of Public Necessity and Need) would remain the same as it has been since 1998, as it already encompasses the whole county. The license renewal will also remain the same as it now also encompasses the whole county.


CM Williams said he didn't think there would be any opposition.

CM said Johnson he didn't want to be in the EMS business.

CM Johnson will put out the RFP. If he finds it can't be piggybacked the RFP will be put out on Onvia's Demand Star.

If there is anything else in particular the county or the city wants to add to the study, their respective boards will be responsible for paying for that.

With the cool heads of the county and city managers looking to resolve their respective municipal differences the city-county EMS debate is headed into the final round.

This time it looks like everyone will come out a winner.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb 19, 2010 Kieth Blackie of Lake City wrote:  Unequal Taxation

As a resident of Lake City, I have serious reservations with the city having to pay any portion of the EMS services provided by Columbia County. These reservations are based on a principal that reaches to the heart of all government issues, namely taxation.

The basis of my concern isn't necessarily that the city shouldn't pay anything toward the cost of EMS service, but rather that the understanding of the simple fact that as a resident of Lake City, I am also a resident of Columbia County. Being a citizen of Lake City does not give the county the ability to abrogate responsibility to provide my family with EMS service should the need arise. This provides for Lake City residents to be treated as second class citizens, who are not afforded all of the services for which they are required to pay. It may be legal, but it certainly isn't the right thing to do.

Taxation being the centerpiece has only become the issue in recent years, after the county abandoned the special assessment for EMS. Prior to the elimination of the special assessment, EMS was funded by taxpayers based on a per household fee. At that time city residents were exempted from the county special assessments, thus the city agreed to pay an amount that reportedly supported the EMS service within the incorporated area of the Lake City proper. At that time, no tax dollars Lake City residents paid to Columbia County were used for EMS service, now, however, ALL county residents pay taxes to support EMS, including those within the city limits. Therefore, those city residents are relegated to paying once for the service, as with all other county residents, through their annual property taxes, and pay again for the service through the city taxes. Indeed, city residents do not get a taxation credit for EMS on their annual tax bill, yet county residents get the equivalent tax credit annually when compared to city residents.

In other words, if the county residents are not required to pay for EMS service, why should the bona-fide county residents in the incorporated area be treated as a special class of people who must pay for it?

I am a citizen of Columbia County as well as Lake City, and I deserve to be treated no differently than any other citizen who pays taxes in this county.

Incidentally, despite the fact that I live a mere 2 minutes away from an EMS station located in the unincorporated area of Columbia County, 911 dispatch chose instead to send EMS from across town at a station from within the city limits, even though according to admissions from EMS personnel, it would have been prudent and should have been dispatched from the closest station, particularly considering the nature of the emergency. In my case the outcome was favorable, the next second class Columbia County citizen may not be as fortunate.



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