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The Aug. 28 primary ballot is approaching and this cycle is extra important for Marco Island voters as we will be voting on a binding referendum to approve or deny establishing local control over EMS (ambulance) transport, enhancing services and funding necessary for it.

For many years, only one full-time ambulance was stationed on Marco Island. As our city grew, it became clear to many that we needed additional coverage. Multiple attempts by prior and current City Council asking Collier County to increase our service with a second full-time ambulance were rebuffed. The County provided a part-time unit limited to being stationed on the island only 20 percent of the time a few years ago with no increase since. Marco Island still only has one full-time ambulance stationed on island from May until December each year.

Currently, Marco Island Fire Rescue paramedic first responders are not allowed, by law, to take you to the hospital if you require it or to administer the full complement of available drugs even if they show up on scene first. You have to wait for a Collier County EMS transport even if that means a delay. We have no control over the number or type of drugs available to be administered to you, no control over the tax rate, no control over implementing new and improved policies to benefit patients, and no control over the number of ambulances stationed full-time on Marco Island. We were not allowed to make these decisions for ourselves, even if we wanted to improve the level of service.

The above inefficiencies highlight what the lack of control and flexibility within the current system could mean to Marco Island citizens in a moment of tremendous need. Thanks to an undertaking to draft legislation by City Council and staff, and with support from our state legislative delegation, the Florida legislature, and Governor Rick Scott, we can now choose our own destiny. The legislation passed the House 112-1 and Senate 38-0. Governor Rick Scott signed the bill in March.

If voters say “yes” citizens will get two ambulances and one back-up unit stationed on Marco Island full time, a full-complement of drugs administered by first-class paramedics, immediate transport to a hospital when necessary (no waiting for a county unit), and important flexibility to adapt new technologies and practices to better serve our citizens. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and citizens will pay a modest average of $8.33 additional per month (for a home with a taxable value of $500,000) for these improvements on your yearly tax bill. This figure is based on a third-party analysis.

The referendum is tied to actual costs so taxpayers won’t pay more than what is needed. City Council supports an equitable and just accounting of EMS funds collected by the county to protect our taxpayer dollars.

If voters say “no” the system will continue as it currently operates but without the improvements referenced above and no guarantee it’ll stay this way. There’s a risk of future county consolidation leaving Marco Island with little say and possibly resulting in less control, increased taxes, and continued inflexibility and inefficiencies. The Chairman of the Emergency Medical Authority stated during our COPCN hearing that he believed Marco Island was not paying enough for the status quo.

The choice is yours, fellow citizens. Vote your conscience and take advantage of this historic opportunity. Yes or no, I and our entire Council will continue to do everything possible to deliver the best for our citizens.

If you’d like to discuss this or any other issue further, please contact me at jgrifoni@marcocitycouncil.com or (239) 315-2089.

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