Funding ambulance, rescue in LP: “That’s literally the million dollar question.”

The LPPJ Ambulance Service Committee met Thursday morning to provide updates.

by Malcolm Butler

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury Ambulance Service Committee met Thursday morning at the Library Events Center for the latest updates as a search for the solution continues for how the parish will handle 911 calls and rescue situations within the parish but outside the Ruston city limits starting in 2023.

Starting January 1, the City of Ruston will no longer handle those situations outside the city lines as the LPPJ voted 6-3 against the $654,604 proposal from the city back in July, despite the recommendation at that time from the Ambulance Service Committee.

With the price tag of an estimated $360,000 for Pafford EMS to handle the ambulance portion of the equation,  the Lincoln Parish Fire Department will be tasked with the rescue side. 

During Thursday morning’s 45-minute meeting, reports were given in regards to 911, rescue, contract, and financials.

Richard Aillet, chairman of the Lincoln Parish Fire District board, provided the report on the financial component of the rescue side which will fall on the Lincoln Parish Fire Department starting January 1. 

“Let me start off by saying that when the phone rings on January 1, we are going to respond, regardless of what takes place,” said Aillet. “We always respond whether it’s mutual aid or the first responder.”

Aillet stated that it will take $478,000 annually in operating costs for the Lincoln Parish Fire Department to fund six more full-time personnel positions, which will cover the yearly cost of salaries, fringe benefits, and other expenses assumed with adding full-time staffers. This will increase each shift by two full-time dedicated rescue staff members. 

“Once that is enacted, the Lincoln Parish Fire District Protection District will have two dedicated full-time personnel responding full-time to fire calls for 20,000 people and two dedicated full-time to respond to rescue calls for 20,000 people,” said Aillet. “There are going to be times when there is nothing but a fire call and there will be times when there is nothing but a rescue call and we can double over. Our personnel can respond in both directions.”

Currently the LPFD has six full-time staffers (all either EMTs or paramedics who are also trained in rescue) and operates largely on volunteers, a number in the mid-40s according to Aillet.

“Our district could not function without volunteers,” said Aillet. “We have a list of what people are certified in. We have two swift water certified responders volunteers. We have six paramedics on our volunteer corps. We have more rescue certified personnel on our volunteer corps. We have a significant volume of people already trained and ready to go. They have already been responding and they will keep responding.”

In addition to the annual cost of the additional personnel, Aillet reported that there would be capital costs in the agreement, including $141,000 in year No. 1, $212,000 in year No. 2 and $87,000 in year No. 3. 

Aillet said the department already has two sets of rescue gear, but that “are approaching 15 to 20 years old. We need to have three sets of operating extrication gear. Ideally we would have some at the main station loaded on the truck in Vienna. We would have a set of gear somewhere on the west side around Simsboro and maybe a set on the east side. It would give us a quick response to anything that happens.”

The first year’s capital costs would include purchasing “jaws of life type” equipment, rescue struts, lifting bags, and a rescue boat. The second year’s capital investments would be replicated in some of that including a second set of “jaws of life type” equipment and a light duty quick response truck that would allow for easier access to more rural off-road areas.

Third year cost would include more “jaws of life type” equipment.

Aillet also mentioned that the fire district is in need of a large rescue truck with all of the equipment on it which would include a price tag of around $750,000. He said the fire district already has $250,000 set aside for that but would need the additional $500,000.

“That cost is two years out because delivery is two years out,” said Aillet. “If we ordered it today, we wouldn’t get it until late 2023 or 2024. That is common with a lot of trucking equipment these days. There is a long lead time of that.”

When the operating cost and capital cost are added together, the LPPJ is looking at a price tag of $619,000 in 2023, $690,000 in 2024 and $565,000 in 2025. And that doesn’t include the estimated $360,000 price tag on the Pafford EMS service. 

So where will the funding come from?

“That’s literally the million dollar question in this case,” said Lincoln Parish Police Jury Superintendent Doug Postel. 

Charlie Edwards, chair of the LPPJ Ambulance Service Committee, provided a report Thursday morning on the financial part of the process. Edwards mentioned researching to see if a fee could be accessed on parish residents’ water or electric bills, but that it didn’t appear that would be possible due to a number of factors. 

Edwards also mentioned the possibility of using monies from the sale of the hospital years ago, something Postel is in favor of.

Postel said law allows only the interest ($75,000 annually) from the $10 million that the LPPJ has control over to be used on a yearly basis, and only for health care expenditures. In order for the principle to be spent on the ambulance and rescue service, the LPPJ would have to vote to approve it and then the Lincoln Parish voters would also have to vote in favor of using it.

However, Postel believes this is the best route.  

“When it comes to financing this, you will never hear me say that I would be in favor of any sort of tax,” said Postel. “That would have to be an absolute last resort, and I don’t think we are there.

“We don’t need to put the burden of this situation on the citizens. By utilizing the (hospital) funds, they wouldn’t have to. They would never notice any difference if we went that direction. I can’t think of a bigger impact to a health outcome than the ambulance service. So that’s my recommendation.”

The next meeting of the Ambulance Service Committee will be Aug. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

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