Ocala, Florida — A report recently issued by the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), claimed that Marion County is among the top Florida counties when it comes to funding fire rescue and emergency medical services.
The findings were released on June 3 as an alleged compilation of fire control and EMS expenditures and rankings for each Florida county for the fiscal year ending in 2013.
The report, which was provided to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, stated the following as fact:
– Marion County ranked third among all other Florida counties for fire control and EMS expenditures as a percentage of the total county expenses in FY 2012-13.
– Marion County ranked 11th for total fire and EMS expenses that year (approximately $49 million).
– Marion County ranked 14th for total fire and EMS expenses per capita, at $145.45 per each Marion County resident.
“These results are directly related to the hard work of our Marion County Fire Rescue crews and staff, as well as of senior leadership, to continue providing the best possible fire rescue and EMS services our tax base can support,” said Commissioner McClain. “In that same spirit, we will hold our budget workshops this summer to address our financial challenges and prioritize these services into the future.”
However, after reviewing the data used in this report, Ocala Post found that there were significant issues with the dataset for this study. So much so, that the incorrect data effectively voids the results of the study.
When looking at per capita spending, Marion County appears to spend much more than other counties. This per capita number was derived from taking the total amount of dollars spent on a county fire department, or at least what was deemed a county fire department, and dividing by the total population of the county.
However, this does not appropriately calculate true per capita spending, as city fire departments separate EMS agencies, and fire and EMS control districts are not included in the study.
For example, Manatee County, according to the study, ranks 57 out 67 counties and allegedly only spends $14.7 million annually on fire and EMS expenses with a population of 333,880. The study claimed that this county spends $44.25 per person.
The study leads one to believe that a county with a similar size and population, such as Marion County, would be able to provide fire protection and emergency medical transport for around the same or possibly lower cost. But a closer look at the fine print told a different story.
At the bottom of page two of the study was a footnote that read, “Manatee County has multiple independent fire districts. The number reported corresponds to the Myakka City Fire Department which is the only dependent fire district in the county.” In other words, the data provided for Manatee County was only based on the budget of Myakka City Fire Department, which is $2.1 million.
Additionally, there was another footnote that read, “Sub-Total amounts for EMS expenditures or Fire Control expenditures, as well as the distribution of these reported expenditures for some counties may be skewed due to internal reporting and/or accounting practices.” This statement alone could lead a reasonable person to conclude that data calculated with the figures obtained from those agencies would be false.
The actual numbers for Manatee County are as follows:
- Bradenton Fire Rescue ($8.6 million)
- Longboat Key Fire Rescue ($6.18 million)
- Cedar Hammock Fire Department ($12.7 million)
- East Manatee Fire District ($27 million)
- West Manatee Fire District ($5.9 million)
- Southern Manatee Fire Rescue ($15.8 million)
- Myakka City Fire District ($2.1 million)
- North River Fire Department ($8.3 million)
- Parish Fire Department ($1.3 million)
- Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority
- Trailer Estates Fire Department ($84,032)
For the study to base per capita spending for an entire county on one fire district, which does not serve the other 320,000 people in the county, is deceitful.
Ryan O’Reilly, PR director for the Professional Firefighters of Marion County said, “[There are many] examples of this type of false, misleading data in most of the counties ranked by the FAC in terms of spending.”
In fact, Ocala Post found that the study was plagued with inaccuracies very similar to the budget figures reported for Manatee County.
The study didn’t even include all 20 Pinellas County agencies that provide fire and emergency medical services to Pinellas County citizens, which lead to inaccurate comparisons for Marion county; making the data misleading to taxpayers. Additionally, the counties that Marion County were compared to in terms of spending, were significantly smaller in population, and 49 percent of the counties have a population smaller than the Marion County Fire Rescue call volume.
“We are hopeful that the BOCC will not be swayed by incorrect data,” O’Reilly said. “It is certainly our hope that commissioners choose to adequately fund MCFR so that they can retain the experienced firefighters, paramedics, and EMT’s who serve Marion County.”
O’Reilly said that failure to adequately increase revenue would lead to a reduction in service.
“The men and women who dedicate their lives to the citizens of Marion County deserve to know that they have a future in this department and, that they can raise their families on the money they earn and eventually be able to retire after a lifetime dedicated to serving and protecting the people of this community,” O’Reilly said.