GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After about three years of work involving letters, meetings and negotiations, the Town of Orange Park is one step closer to securing a Certificate of Need to operate its …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After about three years of work involving letters, meetings and negotiations, the Town of Orange Park is one step closer to securing a Certificate of Need to operate its own fire and rescue service.
The Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the town’s application to run its own rescue unit at its Dec. 11 meeting. Commissioners Diane Hutchings, Mike Cella and Gavin Rollins voted yes, while commissioners Gayward Hendry and Wayne Bolla voted no.
Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock again stated the three main reasons he did not support the CON. He said he didn’t see a public need for the change in service level, nor did the move provide any benefit to the Town of Orange Park nor any financial benefit to either the county or the town.
At the BCC meeting, Town Manager Sarah Campbell defended the Town of Orange Park against objections that both Mock and County Auditor Mike Price had regarding funding of the rescue unit.
The biggest question of the night surrounded money. Both Price and Campbell presented their financial findings in how this CON would affect the Town of Orange Park and Clay County and they did so with differing numbers.
The CON application calls for the town to pay the county $258,000 each year of the two-year CON agreement to help alleviate the loss of county revenue from medical billing that occurs from transporting patients within town limits.
“The county had come up with a number of $516,000,” Campbell said. “That was their impact and our council voted to meet them halfway, and so $258,000 is just a halfway number to agree that we understand there is some revenue loss to them. We wouldn’t agree to the full amount, but this is a goodwill gesture.”
On top of this yearly $258,000, Mock expects the town to make another $120,000 each year from the calls the county fields for Orange Park. According to Mock, it’s expected that Orange Park will handle 80 percent of the town’s calls and that 20 percent of the town’s calls will be handled by the county. Mock said 20 percent equates to an estimated $120,000.
Campbell said that once the Town of Orange Park is fully in control of its rescue services, it might not be as necessary as it is now for county services to answer Orange Park calls, meaning that the 20 percent estimate could drop.
Mock said Clay County can expect more rescue coverage under the new agreement. The plan also calls for Orange Park to work towards purchasing its own ambulance. When that happens, Clay County will get the unit currently in the Orange Park Fire Station back. As a result, the county will have an additional rescue unit at its disposal and an extra one available when needed stationed in Orange Park because of an existing mutual aid agreement.
Commissioner Hutchings, who represents Orange Park, presented an argument for voting yes to approve the town’s CON that may have turned the tides of the conversation.
“Let’s keep in mind that this is a two-year agreement,” Hutchings said. “It gives us the opportunity to test the waters. Knowing the future growth that we have coming, we put this unit in place without any infrastructure overhead as far as a place to put it, we are going to have to build some more ambulance locations and firehouses as the growth comes, so right now, I feel like we’re at a really good place to see...how this can or can’t work.”
“Let’s let them try it out,” Hutchings continued.
Hutchings’ point, coupled with public comments from Orange Park town residents who attended the BCC, presented a case that seemingly, commissioner Gavin Rollins and BCC chair Mike Cella, could get behind.
Hendry said he dissented because he did not hear the town explain why the change was necessary. Bolla explained that his constituents, citizens in Oakleaf which are outside of Orange Park, have to pay for this change, but won’t receive any of the benefits.
The next step for the CON is state approval, and once that is completed, the town will be required to either hire or contract with a medical director, as well as purchase other equipment, such as a backup unit as it transitions to providing its own rescue service.
According to Campbell, there is no exact date for full implementation.
With this piece of the puzzle behind them, Campbell said she is proud of the cooperation on both sides, despite differing beliefs.
“I’m just really, really proud of the efforts on both sides,” Campbell said. “It’s...the culmination of a lot of hard work on everybody’s part to get us to this point and we’re ecstatic.”
Orange Park Mayor Gary Meeks shared Campbell’s excitement and is ready for what’s next.
“We’re really excited about it,” Meeks said. “It’s something that’s gone on for a good decade, maybe a little longer, and we as a town try to have the highest level of service and we felt under the current conditions that we weren’t able to provide that and we were able last night to bring that to closure. Now, we have the control to create a mandate we feel our residents deserve.”