ICYMI: LPPJ jurors ask city officials to return to emergency, rescue discussions

Friday’s LPPJ Ambulance Committee meeting saw a number of attendees voice their desire for city officials to return to the discussion.

By Malcolm Butler

During Friday afternoon’s Lincoln Parish Policy Jury Ambulance Committee meeting, there was a push by a couple of police jury members in attendance as well as some committee members for the City of Ruston to be invited back into the discussion.

Almost two months ago the LPPJ voted 6-3 against the City of Ruston’s proposed price tag of $645,000 to continue serving the entire parish in regards to emergency and rescue operations. 

Since that vote “Plan B” has included researching the feasibility and cost of signing a contract with Pafford EMS and a memorandum of understanding with the Lincoln Parish Fire District to handle these responsibilities starting January 1 – a price tag that could eclipse $1,000,000 per year. 

Policy Jurors Sharyon Mayfield and Glenn Scriber spoke during the public comment portion of Friday’s meeting. And despite the fact they both originally voted against the city’s proposal in July, Mayfield and Scriber feel that it’s important to try to get the City of Ruston back to the table. 

“When I made my statements at the July (police) jury meeting, I stated that because of the big increase (in cost) that we were looking at that I didn’t think we were doing the parish justice unless we overturned every stone,” said Scriber. “We needed to look at every possible scenario so we could make the right decision for the parish. Since that time the stones have been overturned. 

“We have gotten figures back that we did not have at the time of the vote. Now I would like to see if the City of Ruston would circle back and be willing to talk with us about it again. If they don’t, then we will move forward with what we have to work with. But I would sure like to try.”

Mayfield, who is in her 12th year serving on the Police Jury, agreed, citing numerous discussions with parishioners throughout the area.

“I feel like we didn’t get enough of a conversation going with the city of Ruston before we voted (in July),” Mayfield said. “When it was presented at that meeting, all we heard was $645,000. I could not visualize that amount of money. I didn’t understand where we were going to find that amount of money at this particular time.

“Right before I came to the meeting (Friday), I called (Ruston Fire Chief) Chris Womack and said the city needed to come back to the table. He said no one had invited them back. That’s why I got up in the meeting and spoke. We need to try to get everyone back at the table.”

For more than two decades, the City of Ruston handled all emergency and rescue operations for the entirety of Lincoln Parish for a cost of $30,000 annually. This year that total increased to $120,000, and the proposal from the city for the near future was that plus an annual 5 percent increase.

However, somehow, that offer never made it to the entirety of the Lincoln Parish Policy Jury members.

Instead by the time the jurors heard from the City, the proposal was up to $645,000. How and where the line of communication broke down is one of the big issues in this entire situation. 

“We had been stuck at $30,000 for over 20 years,” said Womack. “The (proposal of) $120,000 was very open and honest; this was not where we ultimately needed to be. The documentation that was given to (Richard Durrett) and others stated this is what this is but not where it needs to be. But let’s get this in the door, and it’ll give us a couple of years to work out long-term funding. The $120,000 was never meant to be long-term. That got lost somewhere in the shuffle.”

By the time the July meeting was held, the City of Ruston’s offer was at $645,000 – which was seen as a huge increase and a bit overwhelming to many policy jury members. 

“What I was really voting against was the fact we didn’t have all the information that we needed,” said Scriber. “As a matter of fact the night of the vote I didn’t think we were ready to vote. I really didn’t think that we were prepared to make such a serious decision with no more information than what we had.

“I voted no in hopes of revisiting this thing when we got all the numbers in. Then we could make an educated decision.”

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said Friday during a phone conversation that it would take an “overwhelming” majority to possibly get the city back to the table. 

“The police jury, not the ambulance committee, but the police jury voted us out when they rejected the offer,” said Walker. “So the only way we would even consider – and I’m not saying we would do it – but the only way we would even consider coming back to the table is for the police jury to vote overwhelmingly that they want us back.

“They originally showed that they did not (want us at the table) until they found out the real price of doing it. Now they are fixing to spend twice as much as we offered with that $645,000.”

Walker took it a step further. 

“The city didn’t pull out,” Walker said. “We got voted out by a (6-3) vote. I think it will have to be a 12-0 vote (to get us back). We have been in this process since April of 2021. It’s not fair to my firemen, my police officers, or anyone else that works for the city to drag this on forever.”

Womack said at this point that time is of the essence, regardless of whether the final decision lands on a Pafford EMS-Lincoln Parish Fire District model or a City of Ruston model. 

“We have to buy equipment and be able to do the things that we need to do in order to do the job properly,” said Womack. “No door is ever shut. But everybody is in a time crunch here including us.”

When asked directly if egos had played or were now playing a role in the situation, Womack reiterated Mayor Walker’s comments about the Police Jury needing to show overwhelming support. And he added one more thought.

“Egos can’t play a role in this,” he said. “It’s public safety.”

Dr. Jackie White, affiliated with Northern Louisiana Medical Center and a member of the LPPJ Ambulance Committee, was very vocal in Friday’s meeting about a number of subjects, including bringing all parties back together to have further conversations. 

Although Scriber said he could only speak for himself, he believes the members of the Lincoln Parish Policy Jury are very interested in talking with the City of Ruston again. 

“I think as a collective group we are in favor of talking to the city again,” said Scriber. “But there’s no way I would go out on a limb and say that I think we could get a unanimous vote on it. I can’t speak to that. I think I have enough confidence that the majority of the jurors would be in favor of (the City) coming back to the table. Beyond that I would not speculate.

“I think by acknowledging that we would love to talk to the city again, that’s a positive thing and a step in the right direction.”

The next Ambulance Committee meeting is set for Sept. 8 at 9 a.m.


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