Voters were lined up and waiting when the polls opened on November 4 in Pine Mountain, eager to cast their votes. A record turnout of 85 percent was reported by the Kern County Elections Office.
We Voted, But Will They Come?
By Patric Hedlund
The news early in the week was not good. Despite a recordbreaking 85 percent turnout at the polls in Pine Mountain and a 75.4 percent approval rate for Measure K by voters, some county department heads said it could take nine months before Kern County Fire Department’s first firefighter paramedic program could get underway.
On November 4 the community had voted to tax itself $70 a year per parcel to pay for the emergency medical Advanced Life Support (ALS) program, with proceeds to flow into their County Service Area (CSA) 40 fund. That account is also used for maintaining guard rails on the “S” curves leading to the mountain village. The fact that there is $727,221 of their own tax money already sitting unused in the CSA 40 fund was of interest to the voters who contacted us about possible county blockades to implementing the program.
Suspicions were fed by the bitter campaign against Measure K waged by a consultant working for the private ambulance association of Kern County.
Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall owns Hall Ambulance Service, with an exclusive medical transport contract granted by the county covering 87 percent of Kern County’s population. His ambulance association has resisted the firefighter paramedic program, expressing concern that they might lose their paramedic personnel if it is implemented.
The Mountain Enterprise began polling county workers last week about implementation schedules. In an answer to emailed questions Monday, Nov. 17, Chuck Lackey, director of Kern County’s Engineering and Survey Services (which administers the CSA 40 funds), said the paramedic program might have to wait until after the new fiscal year, which begins in July 2009. An August start-up would be a nine month delay. Ross Elliott, director of the Emergency Medical Services Department (EMS), said it could take up to six months. Firefighters who have worked to develop the plan said they could be ready to go within 30 to 60 days.
Pine Mountain Realtor Karen Bailey said Tuesday she asked the Kern County Grand Jury to look into the situation. She has made Measure K a campaign dedicated to the memory of her husband. Harold Bailey died while waiting an hour for an ambulance to arrive in 2005.
On Wednesday afternoon Supervisor Ray Watson called to say he had asked all county personnel, “to proceed at the earliest speed possible.” He said the Kern County Counsel had been asked to determine if existing CSA 40 money could fund the program prior to the 2009- 2010 tax cycle.
Chief Dennis Thompson called to say that he was sure Supervisor Watson wanted to see implementation proceed rapidly.
Watson said he directed Elliott and Thompson’s staff to work together: “I told them that instead of sending stuff back and forth to get everyone in the same room and try to get it moving. Let’s not make this government time, let’s make this quick time.”
Thompson agreed: “I’m hopeful we can sit down to begin the process this week or by early next week. I’m hoping we’ll be able to expedite the process. We’re not going to wait for the opinion of county counsel to begin our work. We’ll also see if we can find some funds here to get started.”
It is possible Thanksgiving week will arrive with good news for Pine Mountain’s voters.
This is part of the November 21, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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