Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Parish seeks temporary EMS deal with city

Committee would form to seek long-term solution
Thursday, February 10, 2022
Article Image Alt Text

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury has agreed to the city of Ruston’s original $120,000 asking price for the Ruston Fire Department to continue providing ambulance service outside the city limits, but just for 2022.

The jury on Tuesday unanimously approved a proposed cooperative endeavor agreement, which is yet to be written, with the city that would see the parish pay the increased fee for service for the remainder of this year and would form a joint ambulance committee charged with proposing a “sustainable, long-term solution” by the end of June.

The police jury has paid the city of Ruston $30,000 a year for the past 28 years for the RFD to provide ambulance and rescue service across the whole parish.

The city contends that amount doesn’t scratch the surface of personnel and equipment costs to provide the service in modern times.

Talks between city and parish officials on the ambulance issue reportedly began in April of 2021. Parish Administrator Doug Postel said he, jury President Richard Durrett and Vice President Milton Melton have been handling the negotiations with city officials such as Mayor Ronny Walker and Fire Chief Chris Womack.

In early January of this year the city offered to continue providing the service at a rate of $120,000 a year with a 5% yearly increase. City officials said there was no room for negotiation.

“I guess I’m offended a little bit when we’re told ‘take it or leave it,’” District 8 police juror Skip Russell said during Tuesday’s jury meeting.

By Jan. 31, Walker and Womack had withdrawn the offer and delivered a letter stating ambulance service outside the city would stop on June 1. They said parish officials had canceled several meetings to discuss the situation by that point.

But now Tuesday’s agreement, though not yet in writing, is reportedly agreeable to both parties. The jury gave its approval at its meeting, and Womack said Wednesday the city is aware of the proposal and has given verbal agreement.

In addition to extending the RFD’s service to the whole parish for the remainder of this year, the deal would form an “ambulance advisory committee” consisting of representatives from Ruston, the police jury, the Lincoln Parish Fire District, the city of Grambling, the town of Dubach, the villages of Simsboro and Choudrant, and possibly a few citizens at large, Postel said.

“Its first task would be to develop a sustainable, long-term solution for continued parish-wide ambulance service and to present that solution to the governing bodies no later than June 30 of this year,” Postel told jurors.

Overall, jurors seemed to agree the RFD would be the best choice for continued ambulance service, but several were unconvinced that $120,000 is a fair price.

“I think going with the Ruston Fire Department is an excellent idea,” Russell said. “I would just like a little justification, a little documentation, showing what those figures really should be. I don’t think we mind spending the money, but we want to know what it’s for.”

While agreeing with Russell on being “offended” by the “attitude” of the city’s initial offer, juror Annette Straughter, president of the jury’s Health and Welfare Committee, said the jury is still responsible to provide quality service for the citizens of the parish.

“When you’re in an accident, you want to be able to pick that phone up and call an ambulance service that’s going to come quickly and not be stationed in Minden or Jonesboro,” she said.

“There’s no way we can fund any other ambulance service for $120,000. Ruston ambulance brings things to the table that other ambulance services do not.”

Russell agreed “they’re the best choice.”

“My only question is, show me the numbers,” he said.

Postel said these and other considerations would be part of the new committee’s job if the agreement is approved.

City officials have previously told the Leader that about 40% of the RFD’s calls for emergency medical service come from outside the city. In 2021, city EMS made 1,656 parish runs.

The city estimates it supplements the jury’s contribution with an extra $1 million or so per year to pay for the ambulance service. The additional fee from the jury would help RFD begin to hire additional staff to better cover the whole parish, as the department contends it’s currently spread too thin.