Last month, St. Tammany Fire Protection District 12’s board voted to get out of the ambulance business that had been draining its finances, a step that it took in part at the urging of the Parish Council.
The service was discontinued Nov. 1, and the 22 part-time employees who staffed it were let go.
But fire district officials haven’t completely given up on the service that was launched a little over a year ago to serve unincorporated areas near Covington, Abita Springs and Folsom. At a meeting last week, the board held off on selling the five used ambulances it had purchased for $25,000 each.
Joe Mitternight, chairman of the board, said the district would hold onto the ambulances for “a little while,” rather than declare them surplus equipment.
After the meeting, Mitternight said the parish is renegotiating its contract with Acadian Ambulance and there’s a possibility that the new contract will allow District 12 to provide some non-emergency transport of patients, which is more lucrative than emergency runs and provides more work for personnel.
Stephen Krentel, chief of administration for the fire district, said Monday that the decision took him by surprise. He had put $100,000 in the 2016 revenue budget for sales of surplus equipment — a figure that included the ambulances as well as some other equipment that the district isn’t using. Vendors had told him that the district could likely recoup about 90 percent of the cost.
Even if the ambulances are not used, they will cost the district about $2,000 a year each for insurance, Krentel said.
But despite hanging onto the ambulances, Mitternight is pessimistic about the chances of resurrecting the service. The district’s license to operate it has been canceled, he said in an email, and he doesn’t think the parish would approve continued service without a guaranteed source of funding.
That would probably mean seeking voter approval of a 3-mill tax or a parcel fee dedicated to ambulance service, he said, but the district would need Parish Council approval to put such a measure on the ballot.
The fire district voted last week to publish its proposed 2016 budget in the official journal. A public hearing will be held Dec. 10, Krentel said.
The district’s board also voted last week to get rid of its staff attorney, Rob Barnett, who was paid a salary of $102,000, and rely instead on the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office to provide legal counsel. That change is effective Nov. 30.
Barnett’s job had become a center of controversy as the district wrestled with a budget shortfall, but the decision to ax his position generated little discussion at the meeting.
Legal costs did touch off some disagreement, however. The proposed budget provides $150,000 for the district’s legal costs, and Commissioner Jim Woodard said he believes the costs will be substantially higher.
He said he could not vote to advertise a budget that he didn’t think was accurate.
Krentel said that was the amount other commissioners had told him to use.
The board voted 4-1 to advertise the budget as it stood, with Woodard casting the lone dissenting vote.
Later in the meeting, Krentel read a statement challenging Woodard for criticisms he had made at an earlier meeting, touching off a heated exchange.
At one point, Woodard said, “Will you shut up while I’m talking?’’
At the end of the meeting, Woodard said he no longer wanted to serve on the board. He sent a letter of resignation the following day.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.