By T. Scott Boatright
The hard-fought decision has been made — the Lincoln Parish Police Jury has agreed to a five-year with the city of Ruston to provide rescue and ambulance services for parish areas outside of city limits
Now the next step for parish and other local officials is figuring out how to best make the deal happen financially while also steering into a better future for all involved.
“In the administrative office, we’ve already been working on this issue,” said Parish Administrator Doug Postel after Thursday night’s monthly meeting. “We already have a pretty good idea where we can come up with a pretty good chunk of the money.
“And after a conversation I’ve had tonight with some people who must go unnamed for now, I think we might be able to come through with the rest.”
The now-agreed upon deal with the Ruston Fire Department calls for a price tag of $645,604 the first year plus an annual percentage increase based on the Consumer Price Index.
Postel said he couldn’t yet tell how the financing would be figured out, but said that it will happen before Jan. 1.
“It’ll be sooner rather than later,” Postel said. “It should be a smooth transition.”
Postel said the LPPJ’s annual budget should be presented to the jury in November and voted on in December.
“There’s also money we’ve received from the American Rescue Act that hasn’t been spent and could be used if needed,” Postel said.
While the agreed upon deal is for five years, even that could end up being tweaked should future circumstances allow according to Bill Sanderson, village of Choudrant mayor and fire chief who also served on the Ambulance Services Committee that was officially disbanded at the end of Tuesday’s LPPJ meeting.
“The proposal is for five years unwavering for the EMS component,” Sanderson said. “But it’s stated in there that the entire contract could be reduced by a determined amount by removing the rescue services and allowing that to transition to the parish.
“Lincoln Parish Fire District has got a well-trained, ready-to-go right now rescue staff. They need equipment. They need money to outfit a fire truck and supply truck, and they need money to add six additional firefighters. That’s going to cost money. And all that is going to take time.”
Sanderson said that would take at least a one- to two-year transition from where things stand now to where the LPFD is fully staffed and fully funded.
“It’s imperative we get funding and allow them to get started on this and get moving on this transition immediately,” Sanderson said. “Once that’s done and in place, we can remove the Ruston (Fire Department) off of rescue and transition that over to the parish.
“That’s a win for everyone all around. This is the only way we can buy that time and try to make that happen.”
Ruston Fire Chief Chris Womack said he was pleased to see the agreement finally reached and that he feels teaming with Chief Kevin Reynolds and the Lincoln Parish Fire District was the best way to go under the circumstances.
“My relationship, Chief Reynolds relationship, and Pafford’s relationship is great,” Womack said. “None of that has changed.
“I’m the board representative for this region for the Louisiana Fire Chiefs Association and part of that job is to help Chief Reynolds look at some more funding sources for the Fire District. We will be working together and looking at some options. We will look to help them move on towards the rescue business. I want them to be in the rescue business, but I want them to feel fully prepared. I don’t want Chief Reynolds and those guys thrown to the wolves.”
The key, Womack said, was having a deal in place in order to offer all Lincoln Parish residents the best protection and service that can be provided.
“This just gives us some stability in our parish for the next five years,” Womack said. “This will allow us to keep what we’ve done for 48 years in place. I think it’s a good move for everyone. We will continue to have the relationships we have with Pafford EMS and the fire district.
“Our budget was approved in September. We did not have it in our budget to hire the additional people so we will produce a budget amendment. We will get to work on the budget amendment once this contract is signed.
“The honest truth is we’re no different than anyone else in as far as our applications are down, unfortunately, and the quality of applications are even down. That will be a challenge. We won’t just walk out there and hire six new additional people tomorrow. We will be aggressively recruiting and we will hire until we get the staff to where it needs to be.”