SEBRING — First, they voted 1-3 against changes to the EMS ordinance. A few minutes later, Highlands County commissioners unanimously voted for it.
“It’s things like this that makes us look ridiculous as a board,” complained Commissioner Jim Brooks, who cast the only vote for the changes on the first motion, which he made.
The ordinance they finally voted on at Tuesday’s board meeting “was drafted before I was elected,” said Brooks, who was seated in November 2012.
Commissioners spent more than an hour talking around the problem, which the audience and board members complained they didn’t understand.
The changes were largely technical, County Attorney Ross Macbeth explained. However, Positive Medical Transport owner Ron Layne feared the latest revisions of the ordinance, which govern non-emergency ambulance agencies, would be enforced differently.
“It was always understood that EMS was is a gray area,” Layne said.
“I did not change the definition. This is the same,” Macbeth said. “It provides for non-medical transportation.”
If they drive by an accident, state law requires even non-medical transports to stop and render aid, Layne said. He also provides service at Sebring Raceway and other events.
“This would limit us from doing dialysis transports,” Layne said. “That would be a loss to the community.”
“If we approved this, you couldn’t get reimbursed?” Brooks asked.
“That’s correct, from Medicare or even Medicaid,” Layne said.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Brooks said. “Our current ordinance covers non emergencies.”
“I just don’t want us to be in violation of something we’ve been doing for years, that all EMS directors have been aware of,” Layne said.
Would he enforce the ordinance differently, EMS Director Harvey Craven was asked.
“If this passes, this is going to be business as usual,” Craven replied. “And if it doesn’t pass, we still have the old ordinance.”
“We need to keep in mind that (the county is) in the ambulance business,” Chairman Greg Harris pointed. “The more we take away from that business, the more the taxpayer has to subsidize that service.”
The county has already stopped answering non-emergency transport calls, he noted. “And that was profitable for the county.”
After seconding Brooks’ motion, then voting against the motion, Elwell said, “I’m OK with voting for this.”
After agreeing to address the overarching issues, commissioners voted 4-0, with Ron Handley absent.
Ann Kelly asked commissioners for a hearing on Sebring Lakeside Golf Resort, which is sold last year and may be used by Advanced Recovery Systems for a drug treatment center. The neighborhood is not suited for that zoning, Kelly said.
“That appeal is not to this board,” said Macbeth, “it’s to the board of adjustment.”
If they lose that appeal, the county attorney said, the next appeal level is in court. The county commissioners do not have jurisdiction, he said.
Commissioners approved $52,500 in funding to investigate why Lake Jackson water level dropped from 103 feet to 97 feet during the first two drought years of 2008-09. It remained low until the rainy season of 2012, and is now at 100 feet, said county Lakes Manager Clell Ford. Ford was directed to seek funding with Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Rick Haberman presented the county commissioners with a petition to rescind an ordinance that allows no more than three goats, sheep, chicken and pigs on his 10 acres near Avon Park, China Doll Farms. They are not livestock; he said the football-sized swine are raised as pets.
Okeechobee County has requested to be a member of the 19th workforce district with Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto counties. Okeechobee is currently part of Workforce Region 20, with St. Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties.
Michael Brigante and Francis Vanhooreweghe were appointed to the Veterans Advisory Board.
Christine Burrows was appointed to the Health Facilities Authority.
Saverio Sammy Telesco was appointed to the Children’s Services Council.
Parks and Recreation Supervisor Mike Lewis is retiring and was recognized by the commissioners.