Marco Island, Collier County continue back-and-forth on ambulance issue
Marco Island city officials remain content with leaving the decision of whether it will control its own emergency medical services in the hands of its citizens following the latest proposal from Collier County.
Ahead of a scheduled May 1 meeting, the county’s Emergency Medical Authority sent the city questions about its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, or COPCN, application with responses due back by Thursday, April 26.
The City Council discussed Monday how it would respond to these questions as well as the latest offer from County Manager Leo Ochs to secure a second ambulance, which drew an impassioned response from Fire Rescue Chief Mike Murphy.
“The county’s offer is a diversionary tactic in order to derail this program and if we give it credibility, shame on us,” Murphy said.
In June last year, the council approved moving forward with a three-prong plan in hopes of securing a second ambulance for the island.
The plan included negotiating with the county for the second ambulance, working with state legislators on a local bill to bypass the need for county authorization and submitting a COPCN application.
The county has expressed the opinion that Marco Island does not need a second ambulance, but Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last month that will allow Marco Island residents the opportunity to vote on Aug. 28 whether they want local control of emergency medical services.
In reviewing the county’s proposal, Murphy noted that it was an offer the county had rejected in the past and offered little in the way of benefits to the citizens of Marco Island versus moving forward with the vote.
“For the pleasure of a second ambulance that they feel we don’t even need, it’s going to cost our residents $3,553,000,” Murphy said. “In other words, we can pay them an additional $553,000, and we can staff one of their ambulances.”
While Chairman Jared Grifoni said the city should give the county the courtesy of a response, he noted the county had an opportunity to negotiate with the city and not moving forward with the vote on Aug. 28 had several drawbacks.
“My fear is that we would be giving up an opportunity to have this discussion long-term and have that stability for the citizens of Marco Island,” Grifoni said. “Another concern of mine is these proposals would not come from a referendum from the citizens.”
Monday’s discussion was placed on the agenda by Councilor Larry Honig, who wanted to make sure the city adequately addressed the county’s questions and attempted to maintain a good relationship.
While Murphy questioned the deadline, going as far as to say the county was trying to dictate terms, Tabatha Butcher, chief of Collier County Emergency Medical Services, was on-hand for Monday’s meeting to clarify the process.
“I think it’s important to note that while the timeline that placed on the overhead, it was kind of showing that we were trying to rush things along and hold Marco Island to our deadline,” Butcher said. “When we received the application in December, we reviewed it, and the emergency management director and I looked and created some questions that were sent down here on Feb. 6. As was noted, those questions went unanswered.”
Butcher said there were several reminders sent in addition to messages asking if there were any additional questions, but Marco Island officials did not respond.
“It’s very important for the county to receive those answers because we cannot deem that application complete if we don’t know what this is going to mean for the county, the rest of the citizens as well as your own citizens,” Butcher said.
Butcher also called into the question the objectivity of the town hall meeting that was held two weeks ago, which only provided presentations from the Our City, Our Ambulance committee.
Vice-chair Charlette Roman suggested posting relevant “neutral” documents, such as the city's COPCN application and letters from the county, on the city website as well as a frequently asked questions section and an email hotline for citizens with additional inquiries.
“I don’t want there to be information or concern out there that the service is going to degrade in some way, that it’s not going to improve and it’s just going to cost more,” Roman said. “I think we need to make all of these documents available to our public."