By T. Scott Boatright
City of Ruston residents will soon see a $5 monthly increase on their utility bills.
That’s after the Ruston Board of Aldermen passed a motion to add that monthly fee for emergency medical services Monday night during their monthly meeting at City Hall.
The fee will go into implementation on Aug. 13, the next monthly billing cycle for the city.
Chris Womack, chief of the Ruston Fire Department, which provides ambulance services for city residents, said the fee is needed because of rising costs of providing those services.
“The cost of (providing) EMS is going up just like the cost of hospital care and everything else, and to continue to provide (ambulance services) we need to make sure there’s a funding source in place and at the same time benefit our citizens,” Womack said. “A $1,000 ambulance fee might be understandable for some people, but for others that cost is huge. This way, no citizen of Ruston should ever get a bill (for ambulance services).”
After discussing amendments to the billing date and billing as well as the billing cycle, Aldermen Bruce Siegmund questioned what the bill rates would be, with Womack telling him they are $1,500 for ALS 2 calls (involving cardiac arrest) and $1,000 for ALS 1 calls (basic service) plus millage.
“So if an ambulance comes to my house on or after Aug. 13, then there’s a bill but I don’t have to pay it?,” Siegmund asked.
Womack responded by telling Siegmund that Medicare, Medicaid or a private insurer would be billed.
“What they reimburse us, that’s what we’ll collect,” Womack said. “We will never bill you. You may get a statement, but you will never be billed personally at your home. So Medicare pays a 20% co-pay, that’s all we’ll collect (from Medicare). If they don’t have insurance but are paying the utility bill, they’re covered. But someone not from Ruston who has a wreck on I-20 will be billed in full.”
Siegmund asked what the fee will mean to Louisiana Tech University students.
“If they are renting or in a dorm, they’re renting and have an electric bill and won’t pay,” Womack said.
Womack admitted that rates could be raised in the future but should not affect the utility fee.
“The way rates are going, we will have to raise rates again in a few years (for insurers, Medicaid, Medicare and non-residents not paying city utility bills), but with all of this in place, it won’t affect the citizens if the rate goes up,” Womack said.
During a public hearing before the motion was passed, Ruston resident Mike Scriber questioned how much revenue the fee was expected to bring in. Mayor Ronny Walker responded by saying $600,000.
Scriber then questioned why the fee was being added when city residents pay taxes for such services.
“So why all of a sudden do we need an additional $600,000 to fund an ambulance?” Scriber asked.
Walker answered by saying 10 years ago an ambulance was $57,000, but now the cost is close to $300,000, and that back then it was easier to find EMS workers but these days the city has to compete with many other services for personnel.
Scriber then asked if the fee is about service, or about equipment and personnel.
“Both,” Walker responded. “You can’t have the service Ruston residents have come to rely on without having the people and equipment to make it happen.”
Scriber then questioned what is to prevent rate increases eventually leading to fee increases in the future.
“The backstop for that is citizens like yourself coming to the meeting if it’s ever discussed about going up and voicing their opinion and stopping it from happening,” Walker responded.
In the end, the motion passes 3-1 with Siegmund being the only one opposed. Alderman Angela Mayfield was not present at the meeting,
In other business during the meeting, Ruston’s aldermen reappointed Claire Givens to the Board of Adjustment for five years, authorized the city to enter into a master services agreement for engineering and related services at Ruston Regional Airport, and introduced an ordinance authorizing the lease of property by the city or Ruston to Ruston Sports RV Park, LLC.
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