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City’s initial ambulance offer never reached full police jury

Caleb Daniel and Nancy Bergeron
Sunday, July 17, 2022
City’s initial ambulance offer never reached full police jury

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury’s president and vice president were aware of an offer from the city of Ruston for continued parishwide ambulance and rescue service for the majority of 2021 but never brought it to the jury for a vote.

Long before the jury rejected Ruston’s one-time $645,604 offer to extend the services for 2023 on Tuesday, a long-term proposal from the city for $120,000 plus 5% each year had lain on the table for months, unbeknownst to many members of the jury.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said jury President Richard Durrett and Milton Melton countered the proposal on Dec. 13, 2021, with a $60,000 yearly figure. Then several follow-up meetings in January were canceled, prompting Ruston to withdraw its $120,000 offer on Jan. 31.

Durrett and Melton both declined to comment Friday.

The original proposal had been mentioned in private meetings as early as April of 2021 and never came before the full jury — a fact with which some jurors have now taken issue.

“I 100% would have wanted that to come to the jury,” District 7 juror Matt Pullin said. “And I would have signed it. That figure was a no-brainer.”

Instead, Ruston pulled the long-term deal and soon inked a one-year agreement with the jury for RFD to continue emergency services in the parish through 2022 only.

When questioned Friday, several jurors said they didn’t know the 2021 negotiations were taking place. But not everyone had a problem with that.

“As a juror, I give the president of the police jury the authority to speak on my behalf,” District 1 juror Theresa Wyatt said. “I elected him to do that. I’m going to stick to that, unless he brings it to the table.”

Parish Administrator Doug Postel said he met with Walker in late October 2021 and informally agreed to bring the $120,000 offer to the full jury in the near future.

But after one further meeting with Durrett and Melton and several canceled follow-ups, Walker said he had the impression the city’s offer was rejected.

District 5 juror Logan Hunt said the original proposal was “more than fair” and should have come to a vote.

“I could not be more disappointed with the jury president and vice president for their actions and inactions that got us to this point,” Hunt said. “Why was this offer not brought before the jury for consideration?”

When the jury accepted the temporary deal for 2022, it also formed the Ambulance Service Committee, with representatives from the parish, Ruston and the other local municipalities.

After exploring means of funding a new deal and hearing from multiple service providers, but failing to find a permanent solution, the committee voted to recommend the jury accept a new $645,604 offer from Ruston for 2023 only in order to give the committee more time.

That’s what the jury rejected Tuesday.

Wyatt said she took issue with Ruston’s changing its offered price.

“I don’t think the amount should have changed, regardless of who’s asking,” she said. “That makes Ruston and the parish look bad."

City officials said they knew from the start the $120,000 was low but wanted to get a proposal on the table for jurors to consider. They said they had no idea most jurors were unaware of the offer until after the jury’s Feb. 8 meeting.

During that meeting, several jurors said they were offended by what they perceived as Ruston’s take-it-or-leave-it offer. That’s when Walker said he realized at least some of the jurors had no prior knowledge of the offer.

In April, the city gave the Ambulance Service Committee figures on the actual costs of providing EMS and rescue service. The $645,604 came from those numbers and the percentage of parish runs the Ruston Fire Department made in 2021.

According to RFD, 39% of EMS calls and 43% of the rescue calls were outside the Ruston city limits.

All along, Ruston has said it isn’t opposed to serving the parish, but wants the parish to pay its fair share of the costs.

Hunt said the focus between agencies should be on working together as much as possible.

“We are still a small community that can accomplish much more when we are all working together,” he said. “As a parish, generally speaking, we are simply better together.”

That’s not what has taken place so far, Wyatt said.

“It became a political fight,” she said. “There was power involved. It became about Ruston and the police jury instead of about ambulance service. The message we were trying to convey was lost.”