A proposal to allow the Bonita Springs fire district to run its own ambulance service seems to be getting some traction with Lee County commissioners.
At Monday's Management and Planning meeting, Commissioners John Manning and Cecil Pendergrass spoke in favor of allowing Bonita to provide its own transport services for critical patients.
"I support Bonita Springs having its own service, if that's what their residents and council wants," Pendergrass said. "I support home rule."
Bonita fire officials are proposing to manage three ambulances on 24-hour shifts, and to add a fourth if needed. Currently, Lee EMS provides two ambulances that work 24-hour shifts, and one that works a 12-hour shift.
If commissioners approve revising the district's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, they would have to review the ambulance program again in two years. The program would reduce the fire district's reliance on Lee County Emergency Medical Services.
The fire district has been trying for nearly three years to run its own ambulance program. Commissioners are aiming to vote on the proposal by the end of March. But first they want to know what the proposal would mean for Lee County taxpayers and the quality of services provided.
By allowing the Bonita Springs district to run its own transport service, the county could save about $500,000 a year in overtime costs, according to county documents. But the county would be out $750,000 to $850,000 in revenue, producing a net loss of about $250,000 per year, the county reported.
"In this plan, though, no personnel are injured, let go or laid off," Manning said.
If the decision doesn't lead to tax increases, Commissioner Larry Kiker said he'd entertain the motion. He said he wants to hear from both sides - Lee EMS and the fire district.
"I'm concerned about the incremental amount of money the county needs to come up with to provide services in Bonita Springs," Kiker said about the purchase of new equipment. "I need more information, to do my homework and catch up."
One concern with the plan is that it could cause fragmentation of services and possibly entice other fire districts to follow suit, County Manager and interim Public Safety Director Holly Schwartz said. But Manning said language would be added to the certification preventing other districts from doing the same.
"A good way of looking at this is as a 2-year program and then rethinking it later on," Manning said. "We'll see what happens when we bring it back to a formal vote."
This will be the second time county officials will review the fire district's request for its own transport service.
The fire district initially submitted an application in 2010, but confusion over financials prevented the commissioners from making a decision. The proposal got lost in the shuffle last year after issues arose with the county's air ambulance program. District officials submitted a second application to amend their certification at the end of 2012.
Manning said he wants to have the issue dealt with as soon as possible.
"We've heard about this innumerable times," Manning said. "It's down to crunch time now. Time to take a vote one way or another."