County pulls town’s only medically-equipped rescue unit

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 3/28/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rescue 19 has literally left the building.

No later than an hour after the Clay County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to remove Orange Park’s only ambulance, …

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County pulls town’s only medically-equipped rescue unit

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rescue 19 has literally left the building.

No later than an hour after the Clay County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to remove Orange Park’s only ambulance, county officials removed its rescue unit from Station 19 leaving six paramedic firefighters without a rescue vehicle. The measure was passed with little discussion from the county commissioners.

This vote comes just weeks after the Orange Park Town Council voted 5-0 to authorize its staff to notify the BCC of the town’s intent to seek its own Certificate of Need which would pave the way for the town to operate its own rescue unit. Because this is a first for the county, the BCC also voted 5-0 to direct staff to create an application process for the town of Orange Park to go move ahead with plans to establish its own independent rescue services.

“As of 8:15 last night, Orange Park did not have an ambulance at its disposal and already we’ve seen a drop in service,” said Sarah Campbell, Orange Park town manager.

Not long after the county had removed Rescue 19 from Orange Park did a car crash take place in town. The Orange Park crew, which now consists of two fire trucks, arrived at the scene in just four minutes. A Clay County ambulance did not arrive for 13 minutes. Campbell said if the ambulance the county removed from Station 19 had not been removed, an ambulance would have been at the scene of the crash in four minutes.

While both the county and the town of Orange Park are treading into new territory, the discussion surrounding this expedition has been going on for over a year. As part of a countywide agreement, the Town of Orange Park will provide its EMS services to other areas in the county if they are the first and closest unit available.

When this agreement was made over a decade ago, the county agreed to cut the town an annual check of $1.2 million in tax reimbursements. The county disbanded the agreement after changing 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, Clay Today reported last year.

From there, the county cut the town’s millage rate in half in the 2008 fiscal year. At the time, county auditor Mike Price said the $1.2 million tax reimbursements were no longer necessary and that there was no such inequity.

“Since we [cut the millage rate and changed the tax structure], 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 town of Orange Park disagrees with Price and believes there is an inequity, one of the main reasons for Orange Park applying for its own Certificate of Need to operate its own rescue services.

“So, while it is in our budget, it’s unfair and there’s an inequity because there are people who live outside the town who pay fewer taxes and they are getting the benefit of better service, whereas the town residents are paying more in taxes and yes, personnel that they are paying for are being called out more and more outside the town limits,” Orange Park Town Manager Sarah Campbell said.

At a Feb. 20 Orange Park Town Council meeting, Mayor Scott Land said this move in service is not about revenue, a sentiment Campbell reflects today.

Meanwhile, Orange Park Town Council has called a special meeting for March 29 to address the BCC’s Tuesday vote.

“The argument that this somehow saves us money doesn’t add up because we are fully funded for the entire fiscal year,” Campbell said. “The taxpayers have already paid their service. We can’t give taxpayers a refund because this service isn’t being offered and we aren’t going to terminate six [Orange Park Fire Department] employees because they no longer have an ambulance.”

The motion to remove Rescue 19 was temporary until Orange Park obtains a Certificate of Need from the county. According to Campbell, though, because this process has never been done, it could take a few months or it could take a few years. It’s still up in the air, she said.

Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock was unhappy that despite years of maintaining what he believes to be the best possible service for the county as a whole, Orange Park is asking to operate their own rescue service.

“I have to say leading into this, this is not a very happy moment for me because I have really depended on the partnership and collaboration with both the town of Orange Park and its members,” Mock said. “The only thing I can consider with this is that as the demand for services increase, [Orange Park] town leadership feels the strain and feels like they must dedicate service to the town and not the county and that’s disappointing to me.”

Rollins joined in the discussion and asked Price is the current agreement is the most cost-effective solution for the county and town’s EMS services to which Price said without question it is. Rollins also expressed his disappointment in the decision of Orange Park to remove its services from the county as he sees everyone fighting the same fight.

“I hate to see it because I know commissioner Hendry, you were marine, I’m army and we have navy and lots of different branches and it’s always one team, one fight,” Rollins said. “I hate to see this the way it has played out but let’s take it one step at a time I suppose.”

In a press release sent out the morning following the meeting, Campbell said the Orange Park Fire Department is in good spirits and intends on carrying out their mission of providing the best fire rescue response possible to town citizens given the circumstances. The town council will be discussing this issue further at a special meeting to be held Thursday, March 29 at 5:30 p.m.

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