Emergency service a good deal?
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published March 9, 2005

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LEALMAN - Property owners in this unincorporated area have griped for years about the high taxes they pay for fire service - more than any other landowners in Pinellas County and more than many in cities pay for all services.

But that money is spent so efficiently that Lealman is No. 2 on the list when it comes to the cost of having a firefighter or paramedic show up on your doorstep, according to figures released Monday by Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham.

"I don't think we're doing too bad," Graham told the Lealman Fire Board on Monday. "It's another way to look at it."

Fire officials arrived at their figures by dividing the budgets from each of Pinellas County's 19 fire departments by the number of calls each answered last year. The result is the cost per call for both fire and emergency medical services in 2004.

According to the figures, the most efficient is Gulfport, where it costs $365.60 each time firefighters and/or paramedics answer a call. Lealman is second with $588.75.

Pinellas Park, Seminole and St. Petersburg, which border Lealman, rank higher.

In fifth-ranking Pinellas Park, it costs $728.54 per call for a firefighter and/or a paramedic. Seminole, which ranks eighth on the list, costs $808.29 per call. In 10th-ranked St. Petersburg, the per-call cost is $837.70.

All of those are less than the $882.72 county average.

The most expensive is East Lake, where it costs $1,494.42 for a firefighter or paramedic to answer a call.

Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves agreed that the figures look good for Lealman.

"He's correct. You can always take figures and make them look the way you want them to look," Graves said.

But the Lealman figures need some work to truly show whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth, he said.

First, Lealman should weigh only the number of fire calls against the fire portion of its budget to show if the fire tax is used efficiently. Lealman used fire and EMS budgets and total calls, not just fire.

When that's done, the Seminole figures change, Graves said. Rather than $808.29 per call, the figure becomes $621.47, he said. That's the department's $6.6-million budget divided by 10,634 fire calls.

[Last modified March 9, 2005, 00:54:20]