The city's fire department will take over the emergency ambulance services on the island within a year, as Key West pays the private company that wants out $45,000 per month until the takeover.
In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, city commissioners approved paying the company formerly known as Lifestar Response of Alabama a monthly subsidy up to $540,000 total in a contract that runs through March 31, 2015.
"Care/American Ambulance operations will remain in place as they currently exist, and there will be no use of any city facilities, equipment or fuel," according to a report by Michael Davila, the fire department's division chief of Operations.
"We saved the city $2.2 million for three years," City Commissioner Teri Johnston said. "We had an ambulance contract that hadn't gone out to bid in 18 years. We've been talking about this as a city for eight years to bring this in-house."
Care/American's contract expires March 31, having begun April 1, 2011.
Voting in favor were Mayor Craig Cates and Commissioners Johnston, Clayton Lopez, Mark Rossi, Billy Wardlow and Jimmy Weekley. Only City Commissioner Tony Yaniz dissented.
Davila's report suggested Oct. 1 as the transition date for the city to take over ambulance services.
"This city has been challenged with this issue and this problem for a long time," City Manager Bob Vitas said. "This city subsidized ambulance costs in 2006 of $627,900. In 2007, it was $659,295. In 2008, it was $749,948."
The city has spent $4.3 million over last six years on the ambulance contract.
On April 1, commissioners will receive a detailed report spelling out what the city will have to invest in order to run the ambulance services, Vitas said.
Either party may get out of the contract with 60 days notice.
Commissioner Rossi said the city can't even collect water bills.
"How much is this going to cost to set the city up with the fire department?" Rossi asked Davila. "This contract should be rebid to see what is out there for the community. We don't know what we can get if we rebid it."
Probably around $650,000 for the initial costs, Davila said, and about $1.5 million each year for operations.
"We couldn't collect sewer bills, now we're going to go after ambulance bills where you're not going to collect anything," Rossi said. "If a company this size can't collect bills ..."
Commissioner Billy Wardlow said city leaders have wanted to run the emergency services in-house since the 1980s.
"It's when we started certifying EMT firefighters," said Wardlow, the former Key West fire chief.
Yaniz said, "I think we ought to go out to bid."