ORANGE PARK – Clay County and the Town of Orange Park governments are on opposite ends of an argument about revenue coming from municipal emergency medical services that some see as a health …
ORANGE PARK – Clay County and the Town of Orange Park governments are on opposite ends of an argument about revenue coming from municipal emergency medical services that some see as a health concern, not a financial one.
Town EMS staff have responded to emergency calls outside of town limits for more than a decade, but the county collects all of the emergency fees the town’s unit runs. Town administration would prefer a more equitable quid pro quo situation where they are reimbursed in some way for their calls answered out of town limits.
Town authorities view this as an inequity – but according to county staff, an equitable situation was reached a decade ago.
“This issue comes up every time we get a new commissioner or they get a new town councilman or we switch managers,” said Mike Price, auditor for Clay County. “It’s important to have some context.”
Prior to 2007, the county cut an annual check to the town for $1.2 million in tax reimbursements as part of an interlocal agreement. The county disbanded the agreement after they changed the county’s tax structure from a blanket, countywide fee to a tailored tax based on the actual cost of county services provided to each municipality.
The county then cut the town’s millage rate in half from 8.7536 mills to 4.3 mills in the 2008 fiscal year, according to Price. Millage rate is the amount per $1,000 of value used to calculate taxes on property. If a similar deal were to happen at current market rate, the tax break equates to approximately a $2.1 million tax break for town residents.
“Since we did that, then we said ‘there’s no need for us to kick you back $1.2 million of ad valorem taxes anymore because we’re actually providing you the services you’re paying for,” Price said.
The county provides services for town residents, such as the county health department, the medical examiner, the Council on Aging, library services and others.
The county owns the Town of Orange Park’s ambulance and pays for the materials the personnel use on a daily basis while the town staffs the ambulance with town employees.
State statute requires the county to provide a countywide ambulance service. The town’s ambulance is a part of the countywide service, one that tasks the first available ambulance unit with emergency calls.
According to town staff, half of the calls their ambulance responds to are out of town incidents.
“I think there’s a statistical likelihood that the closest vehicle available tends to be the one in our area,” said Town Clerk Sarah Campbell.
Town council members convened last week to strategize on how best to begin a negotiation with the county.
Council members discussed a possible double taxation lawsuit as a remedy to the situation, as well as a plan to negotiate with the county to collect fees on out of county calls. The council also discussed responding to out of town calls only to stabilize the individual, not transport them. Paramedics would then wait for a transport before leaving the scene.
For the town to run its own independent EMS service, the town would have to obtain a certificate of need from the county. A certificate of need is required to create certain facilities in many jurisdictions across the United States in part to prohibit duplication of services, as well as address verified need.
Town Council members also take issue with the frequency of out of town calls because they say when the ambulance is away on a call, there’s no unit to respond in town in case of an emergency.
Price countered saying there are other county, private and even units from Jacksonville that could respond in that situation.
Price said the current situation makes the most sense for both parties, but also said another fix could be for the county to take over the town’s fire service.
Campbell said it was unlikely the council would consider that proposition.
“I think that the town’s police and fire service are core functions that we provide that set us apart from other areas,” Campbell said. “If we got rid of all other town services, the last two to go would be police and fire. I think that’s why we exist.”
Campbell said the town will begin negotiations shortly after budget season. The town’s proposed fire department budget is slightly more than $2 million.
“They tell me it’s about pride for the Town of Orange Park,” Price said. “Pride’s expensive.”