Rumors Fly About Paramedic Tax

By Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer

Rumors circulated through email lists between Pine Mountain neighbors Friday, Aug. 8 to Sunday, Aug. 10, as residents began lobbying each other over an item that will be on their November ballot.

If two-thirds of Pine Mountain’s voters agree to a $70 per parcel tax, starting in 2009- 2010 they will set in motion the first firefighter-paramedic program to be established in Kern County.

They have reached this decision point through intense efforts spanning more than a decade. Progress heated up after Pine Mountain Realtor Karen Bailey became a leader in the fight following the death of her husband three and a half years ago. She waited 57 minutes for a Hall Ambulance paramedic to respond to her 9-1-1 call. Firefighters were at her side in eight minutes the night Harold Bailey died. But they did not have the Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic tools and certification that might have made a difference. They even ran out of oxygen supplies in the time it took for the Hall ambulance to arrive.

Mountain residents began taking their case for better emergency medical response to Bakersfield. Kern County Fire Chief Dennis Thompson said that Kern County has the 10th largest fire department in California, but is the only county among the top 15 that does not have a firefighter paramedic program.

Distrust has grown between mountain residents and Bakersfield politicians because Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall owns the ambulance company that was given exclusive contracts to provide private ambulance paramedic service to 87 per cent of the county’s population, including the Pine Mountain community.

Hall has vigorously fought efforts to establish a firefighter-based paramedic program. In May 2007 the Kern County Grand Jury reported that a paramedic program is needed in Pine Mountain. They said that tension between the private ambulance company and the county fire department needed to be overcome. On April 1, 2008 the Board of Supervisors rejected a fire department plan that would use state (not county) funds to establish a pilot paramedic program in Pine Mountain at no cost to the county.

Finally, in June, the county board of supervisors agreed to let Pine Mountain voters decide if two-thirds of them are willing to tax themselves for the service.

About $210,000 would be raised.

That is the background for the alarm bells that went off Friday when Karen Bailey spotted the words “ambulance service” in the title and body of the actual ordinance the “yes” vote will put into action. She asked for clarification.

Emails flashed between the initiative’s supporters and opponents.

Connie Baldin said that because the proposed ordinance uses the words ambulance and emergency services, everyone should vote “no” on the entire proposition because it could be used by the Board of Supervisors to control “money belonging to Pine Mountain Club property owners.”

Richard Gillies opposes the measure, saying Kern County should provide the service to Pine Mountain using existing tax money. He points out that not all property owners will get to vote—only those registered to vote in Kern County.

Simba Roberts supports the measure, saying even though he is not wealthy he would be willing to make a small change in his personal budget “in order to not have my neighbors dying, or worse, because of a lack of immediate medical service.”

Of the numerous questions raised in the flurry of messages, the two primary questions have been answered by county officials: 1) While the language of the ordinance says “ambulance” and “emergency services,” to conform with state statutes, both the Board of Supervisors and the County Counsel’s office are on the public record saying this means “firefighter-paramedic” service unless the voters come back and change it; 2) A limit on the amount of parcel tax increase is written into the ordinance as a maximum of five per cent during any year—this would equal a maximum of $3.50 (three dollars and fifty cents) for the 2010-2011 year, should an increase occur.

During the July 29 Board of Supervisors meeting, both questions were discussed at length and were answered clearly, leaving the video recording of the meeting in the public’s hands.

Assistant County Counsel Steve Schuett said, first referring to the proposed ordinance, “The services to be provided are firefighter-paramedic services,” and then referring to the ballot measure, “The intention of the ballot measure is to provide firefighter-paramedic services.”

Supervisor Ray Watson said, minutes before the board voted unanimously in favor of the proposed ordinance to be presented to the voters and the ballot measure language, “…the advisory elections…indicate that they prefer firefighter-paramedics alone, above the other options that were offered. So that is what’s being considered.”

Assistant County Counsel Steve Schuett answered Bailey’s email questions Monday, saying, “…The specific language that will appear on the ballot is as follows: ‘In order to provide funding for firefighter paramedic services within County Service Area No. 40 (Pine Mountain Club) shall Ordinance G-7748 providing for a parcel tax on all parcels within County Service Area No. 40 at the annual rate of $70 for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 and establishing the formula for setting the tax for future years be enacted?”

The vote is for a firefighter paramedic, and the maximum annual increase is five per cent, Schuett said in an email interview.

This is part of the August 15, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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