BRADENTON -- Tuesday's BOCC work session provided commissioners with several issues to discuss. On the whole, it was an informative and educational session that included a host of reports, each of which highlighted the broad swath of services that the county oversees.
First up was EMS Billing. Manatee Public Safety Department had Business Operation Manager, Barbara Redmond, deliver a presentation overview of all of EMS's operations. She covered billing, collecting and the methods in which they are handled. She said that the Medicare allowable portion had been reduced and displayed a graph showing their portion, HMOs part, and the amount reimbursements and adjustments equate to. Redmond compared user fees, as well as other charges, to those of other counties. Manatee came in second most affordable in most areas. Redmond then reviewed EMS's fiscal condition and the claims process. Redmond's and the other presentation can be found (here).
Second, was another Public Safety demonstration by Manatee County's Director of Pubic Safety, Bill Hutchinson, on the 800 MGHz public safety radio system. He displayed the more than three dozen separate municipalities and safety divisions that share the system, their challenges, their successes and how the nearly completed 2009 Simulcast System, is nearing completion. Hutchinson spoke about how Manatee's problem communicating with other cities and services in certain areas is still a problem, but will soon be under control, claiming that by December, the new system will be complete.
Hutchinson reminded the commission that, "Radios are the most strategic tool for first responders," while emphasizing the importance for the commission to continue modifying the system. The overhaul of the system has been going on for over a year now, at a cost of over $10 million for the infrastructure. That does not include the cost of the radios, of which the Manatee Sheriff's Office has over a third of those the county owns. Hutchinson said that even if a third party comes in to provide service, public safety will still want to touch each radio for regular inspections.
The third subject was Nuisance Abatement. Building and Development Services Department Director John Barnott introduced the perils of being a code enforcement officer. It seems true that they certainly have a dangerous job. NAO's aren't Law Enforcement, but they deal with many of the same issues. It seems it could be quite dangerous going to someone's place and telling them to stop doing something. Code enforcement officers aren't armed and police officers will tell you, the most dangerous places they are sent to are domestic disturbance calls. Speaking about his officers, John Barnott said, "Every morning we get them in healthy and happy, and we want to send them home healthy and happy."
Barnott also mentioned that they established an "Abatement Board" under the oversight of code enforcement. He said that tips have come from a variety of sources and the recent success of their program has been astonishing.
"Streets, and even whole neighborhoods are by far safer than just a few years ago." Barnott added "I still always let my guys know, if for any reason, something doesn't feel right, call the Sheriff."
Commissioner Joe McClash added, "This is a proactive approach to a better neighborhood."
Next was Property Registration from Neighborhood Services Director Cheri Coryea who discussed Vacant/Abandoned Property. Coryea identified a registry that establishes the process of fees and protocol to protect neighborhoods from abandon properties that fall apart and become not only a health hazard but a depreciating factor to the surrounding houses. There is a 30-day grace period before the county starts legal action to force owners to comply. Until then, there a a series of fines that start at 15 days. If the county is to force any action, clean-up or maintenance, a lean would be placed against the property. With the overwhelming amount of foreclosures, a lot of properties have been left and abandoned presenting an increased challenge for Neighborhood Services.
Commissioners mostly listened to all of what was presented and thanked those who participated. These work sessions is how commissioners get the inside stories of how the different departments work and don't. At Tuesday's session, it seemed everyone was working well.
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