Mayor says he'll likely be the swing vote on ambulance purchase.
Mayor Don Burnette has a strong feeling ambulance services will dominate the workshop discussion at the end of the month, just as it dominated the conversation Tuesday, Aug. 7.
“One thing I’m very happy about, if nothing else, is that people are talking about it,” Burnette said. “Six months ago, we were talking about it when no one else was.”
Port Orange resident Adam Clatterbuck, husband to a disabled wife and father of two children with special needs, initiated the conversation at the start of the City Council meeting by saying Volusia County is not providing adequate ambulance services for the population.
He took issue with the current system, which involves the fire department responding to a medical call, assessing the situation and calling an ambulance, even when the caller requested an ambulance in the first place.
Clatterbuck also said that relying on fire departments from other cities or letting county departments take the calls is unacceptable.
“Our fire department is doing the lion's share of the work, and Volusia County is coming to transport the person and getting the reimbursement,” he said.
The county's current proposal of adding four transport units is “like adding a Band-aid to a bleeding artery,” Clatterbuck said.
Instead, he suggested placing transport units in county stations and allowing cities to have their own transport units.
Clatterbuck urged city leaders to add this layer of protection to prevent daily failures.
He said he and his family would support the tax increase if it means improving ambulance response.
“It can no longer be labeled as an isolated case,” Clatterbuck said. “It’s due to an antiquated system. Bring us into the 20th century, please. I beg you.”
Scott Stiltner, vice mayor and councilman for District 4, commended Clatterbuck for continuing the discussion, especially after an incident last week left a Port Orange man dead after he went into cardiac arrest.
Two fire stations were tied up with medical calls with no EVAC ambulance readily available within the city limits or nearby, Stiltner said.
South Daytona sent a municipal ambulance to help, but the man died.
“This is not happening once a year or every blue moon," Stiltner said. "It’s beginning to repeat itself very frequently to the point that it should be a concern for every elected official, whether you’re a city or a county official."
He said additional units also could help the city reciprocate on mutual aid agreements when surrounding city fire departments need help.
Stiltner said he has contacted county officials to note his concern, and he encouraged his fellow council members and residents to do the same.
“I don’t think any municipalities or county officials can wish this away,” he said. “It’s a growing issue that’s going to have to be dealt with, and we have to keep that at the forefront of discussion.”
District 1 City Councilman Bob Ford said more research is needed before the city could move forward. He suggested that it always seems like a good idea to add fire and police, but you have to accept that there is a limit.
"To do otherwise will bankrupt you," he said.
He said City Council needs to make the decision based on facts. He stated the national cardiac response rate is 9%, and he challenged the county to provide data to show how the county measures up when responding to Port Orange calls.
Though four additional units will make a difference, it will come at a cost, Ford said.
In addition to city taxes for additional units, residents will continue to pay county taxes for county units, he said.
Also, there may be an added cost for safety officers requested by the School Board, which will bring the proposed tax increase to about 15%, Ford said.
He also was concerned about how a tax increase could affect older adults living on fixed incomes.
“The question is how do we keep taxes low enough so average people and seniors can afford their homes and provide best services,” Ford said. “It’s a very difficult juggling act.”
Chase Tramont, councilman for District 2, also expressed his concern with double taxing residents.
District 3 City Councilman Drew Bastian said he would support the increase.
“A 15% tax increase sounds like a lot, but dollarwise, it’s a couple bucks here and there,” he said. “It’s still an increase, but people will support it because the need is there. These things are happening in every city every day, so let’s fix it.”