VENICE, Fla. – In a follow-up to a story we first brought you Wednesday, union leaders for the fire department in Venice want the city to take over ambulance services currently run by Sarasota County.
Thursday, the county's fire chief warned it could have a very negative impact.
Those representing Venice firefighters say "it's a no brainer to us" to take over the ambulance service from the county. They believe it would bring in enough for the equipment and 29 new employees. In return, those new workers hired with less benefits would help out in their under-funded pension program. "The plan that we brought shows an overage where the service will actually make money," says Jerry Collins of the Firefighter’s Union.
Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias currently heads up the EMS operation. He says the proposal is a surprise. "We are not anxious to turn it over to them. We would prefer to keep EMS in the Sarasota County Fire Department."
He says they've crunched some numbers when it comes to the city's three stations. "Our figures show we were about $100,000 in the red."
The union says those numbers are based on the average of all stations. They believe because Venice has an older population, they're busier and can bring in more money for service calls.
Tobias says there is a catch. "They have more people on Medicare. We actually collect less from a Medicare patient than from one on private insurance."
He says you lose something when separated. "We are able to enjoy a large labor pool. We have a large reserve supply of equipment and vehicles. We just think that the size of Sarasota County Fire Department and backing those three EMS stations provides a better level of service for the citizens."
"We are certainly not saying the county does not provide a good level of service. We are just saying that it will help control the service within our area and it will control that the city residents’ tax dollars are being spent within the city," says Collins.
County commissioners have said they don't want to argue about it. If the city wants it they can have it.
Tobias says they should take a hard look. "It's a daunting proposition. EMS is a very specialized field."
ABC 7 talked to Venice's mayor Thursday, who says he brought up the issue months ago but the numbers provided by the county did not look favorable. He says the commission will have to study the issue much more.
Nearby North Port has its own ambulance service. The chief there says it's costing them $4.2 million to operate EMS. He said after billing he's predicting to get back only about a quarter of that, $1.2 million.