Published: Dec 04, 2012 5:20 PM EST
Updated: Dec 04, 2012 6:18 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Lee County is putting off the possible purchase of 10 ambulances, because of concerns about the cost. It comes amid talk of privatizing the Emergency Medical Services. That has lead to a petition drive against privatization.

"We have a $29 million budget shortfall for the coming year. How can we just spend $1.8 million on ambulances at this time, when we are millions in debt," asked commissioner Frank Mann.

He said he had been contacted by the president of a company that operates medical services. Mann said at the county board meeting Tuesday, the person had claimed his company could run Lee EMS and save the county at least $2 million a year.

The Public Safety division says it needs new rigs, because the 10 oldest have very high mileage, and are costing about $90,000 each per year to maintain.

"There comes a point where these vehicles use up their life cycles and they have to be retired. We owe it to the patients who are transported and to our EMS employees to have safe ambulances for transport," said commissioner John Manning.

But the board deadlocked 2 to 2 on the issue. Commissioners will wait for their colleague Tammy Hall to attend a future meeting; she was out of town on Tuesday. She will provide the tie-breaking vote on the purchase.

Meantime, some citizens have started an on-line petition drive to stop privatization of Lee EMS. The petition had collected more than 250 signatures on Monday and Tuesday.

Lee County is moving ahead with plans to get a private company to run the air ambulance service. So far, there is no formal proposal to privatize the ground ambulance service.