Winter Garden leaders consider rolling out ambulance service

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  • | 6:01 p.m. March 31, 2015
Winter Garden commission opens with first non-religious invocation
Winter Garden commission opens with first non-religious invocation
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN — Winter Garden could earn more than $300,000 per year operating its own ambulance service instead of contracting those services to Rural/Metro, according to a report from Matrix Consulting Group.

Robert Finn, one of Matrix’s senior managers, presented the results of his city-funded study to the City Commission during the March 26 meeting. Currently, Winter Garden Fire Department provides fire and emergency medical services, and Rural/Metro provides residents ambulance transportation.

Finn said Winter Garden’s growth will require a fourth fire station, probably in the Marsh Road area, in the near future. His analysis shows that most of Winter Garden’s ambulance needs could be met with two fully staffed ambulances. Finn estimated $574,000 as the first-year cost to acquire two ambulances via a lease/purchase arrangement and hire enough trained personnel for both ambulances to be on-call 24 hours. He estimated ongoing annual costs at $530,000 per year. Winter Garden currently owns one ambulance that it could use for backup if a unit went down.

Finn estimated the city could charge patients $600 for a basic call, $700 for Advanced Life Support 1, $800 for Advanced Life Support 2 and 10 cents per mile. Rural/Metro also charges patients for ambulance services. After analyzing the number of calls within Winter Garden city limits and assuming a 40% collection rate, which Finn called “conservative and achievable,” he estimated the city would collect about $848,297 annually. That would earn the city a profit of about $253,000 in year one, rising to $323,638 by year five.

Commissioner Bobby Olszewski said some cities that operated their own ambulance service claim collection rates between 60% and 70%.

If both ambulances were out on calls, the city would have the option of calling upon an Orange County ambulance and/or using the city’s own backup ambulance if trained staff were available.

Larry Marshall, general manager of Rural/Metro, reminded the commission Rural/Metro has provided service to Winter Garden since 1966. Rural/Metro has a fleet of 40 vehicles on call within six miles of Winter Garden. Because it supplies ambulance service to Orange County, Ocoee and Windermere in addition to Winter Garden, Rural/Metro has the capacity to service Winter Garden when demand exceeds two or three ambulances. 

Marshall asked the commission to review the fees and collection rates in Matrix’s report to ensure that the study was as accurate as possible. 

“We feel Rural/Metro is part of the team (in Winter Garden),” he said.

Mayor John Rees and the commissioners requested additional time to study the report. Any change to current practice would need to come before the commission for a vote. City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said the timetable for a decision will be based when leaders receive sufficient information.

 “It’s more important to get it right than get it done quickly,” he said.


Tim Grosshans, senior pastor of Winter Garden’s First Baptist Church, gave the first invocation to open a commission meeting since September 2014. Joseph Richardson, of the Central Florida Free Thought Community, was in the audience and did not stand during the invocation or Pledge of Allegiance. 

Richardson’s expulsion from a meeting last summer for not standing during the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance created a controversy that led the commission to vote last September to open meetings with a moment of silence. 

In the March 12 meeting, during which city commissioners restored the invocation, Olszewski and City Commissioner Colin Sharman said they thought Richardson should be offered the first invocation. Richardson said he did not receive an official invitation, but he did send a letter to Bollhoefer asking to be put on the city’s list of people interested. Richardson said he stayed through the entire meeting because, as a citizen of Winter Garden, he’s “interested in the work of the commission.”


• Commissioners unanimously passed the second reading of ordinances to annex about 0.504 acres of land at 447 South St. on the northeast corner of Fifth and South streets and rezone the land to city R-1 single-family residential. Community Development Director Ed Williams said this was a voluntary annexation in accordance with city efforts to reduce the size of an Orange County enclave south of State Road 50. 

• The commission unanimously passed the second reading of ordinances to annex about 0.989 acres at 483 South St. on the north side of South Street, and rezone the property to city R-1 single family residential. This property is across the street from 447 South Street and is also a voluntary annexation. This further reduces the Orange County enclave.

• Commissioners unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance to allow the transfer of road impact fees from certain properties when those fees can be used to redevelop blighted properties. In January, the commission approved road impact fee transfers to help fund the redevelopment of blighted property at Dillard Street and State Road 50. This ordinance formalizes that power and will receive a second reading on April 9, 2015.

• The commission unanimously approved the replat of Oakland Park Phase 1A. Williams said this is a small adjustment to make the lots more consistent.

• Commissioners unanimously approved the developer’s agreement for the Oak Trail subdivision. The agreement includes a provision setting Oak Trail’s portion of payment for a traffic light in the area. The total cost of the light will be covered by impact fees from other subdivisions in the area. The city may have to pay some money for the light up front since some subdivisions are taking longer than planned to move forward. Williams said putting a traffic light near the subdivision was part of the agreement with citizens in the area that enabled the subdivisions to get approved.

• The commission unanimously approved the replat of Waterside on the Johns Lake Subdivision Phase 1 to take into account the water line fluctuations.

• Commissioners approved the site plan for Classic Car Wash at 12728 W. Colonial Drive. The owners want to build a 2,000-square-foot building to expand to include detailing. The design was originally approved by Orange County, but after Winter Garden annexed the property, the city needed to ensure the design met its own standards. The current design is the result of extensive discussions between the property owner and city staff.

• The commission unanimously approved a site lease for a cell tower on city-owned property along Marsh Road that is one of the likely sites for a new fire station. The expected growth in that area will require a new cell tower. Bollhoefer said building it now, before there are homes in the area, would give the city more control over the size of the tower and its design. He anticipated the city would receive $3,000 per month in rent and also could locate its own communications for a new fire station there. Building a tower now could also pre-empt the possibility that Orange County would build a less aesthetically pleasing tower on its own land near that location. 

• During the comments from the public section, Penny McLaughlin, who lives near West Orange High School, said she collected 250 signatures on a petition supporting the disputed location of the new relief high school. 

She hopes to have 300 signatures before the April 7 Orange County Commission meeting on the matter. Olszewski said he planned to speak at the meeting. Bollhoefer said he drafted a letter to the Orange County commission to support the relief school. The commission voted unanimously to send Bollhoefer’s letter to the County Commission.

• David Kassander requested an update on the city’s efforts to work with Orange County to improved the intersection near the Belle Meade subdivision and add a traffic light. Bollhoefer said leaders continue to meet with the county and hope construction on a temporary traffic light and other improvements — the responsibility of the county — could start this summer.

• The next commission meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 9, in City Hall Commission Chambers, 300 W. Plant St.


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