Avoyelles Sheriff's Office pays off $300,000 ambulance bill


   After eight years, the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office has paid off a $300,000 bill to Acadian Ambulance.
   “This will be a big load off our backs,” Sheriff Doug Anderson said. “This is a positive step in our budget, but we still have to be concerned about the overall budget.”
  Anderson said that just after he was elected eight years ago, he attended a reception hosted by Acadian Ambulance. Representatives of the company pulled him aside and presented him with a bill for over $1 million Acadian said they were owed. Anderson negotiated the bill down to $300,000.
  For the past eight years, APSO has been paying $1,088.60 a month to the ambulance company, as well as providing a building next to APSO for the company’s use and other in-kind services such as cleaning the ambulances. 
   The debt was for transporting patients throughout Avoyelles Parish.
   In the early 1990s, voters approved a 1/2-cent sales tax to pay for 911 operations and to have Acadian base ambulances in the parish. The sales tax was not enough to cover Acadian’s cost to provide the ambulance service to patients who were financially unable to pay for that service and/or did not have health insurance to cover that cost.
   Acadian estimated the accumulated debt at over $1 million when Anderson took office.
   Now that the ambulance bill is paid, the next goal is to pay off within three years the two revenue bond issues incurred by the previous administration.
  The bond issues were backed with existing revenue sources and did not require voter approval of  new taxes. Anderson said Sheriff Bill Belt issued the bonds to provide funds to balance the department’s budget.
  The first to be paid off is a $500,000 bond issue approved by the Louisiana Bond Commission in 2007. It will be paid off in October 2017. The other bond issue was for $1.5 million in 2004. It will be paid off in 2019.
   The department has been paying $58,300 a year in principal and interest on the 10-year 2007 bond issue and $125,000 a year on the 15-year bond issue.
   “The money we will be saving by paying off Acadian Ambulance will be a benefit to us, but not a huge help,” Anderson said.
  Anderson said there are possible threats to the budget on the horizon, the most serious being a reduction in the state’s $24.39-per-day payment for housing Department of Corrections inmates and inmates from other parishes.
   The Legislature cut DOC’s budget and told the department to come up with a way to balance its budget. There has been talk of reducing that per-diem payment by $1 or $2. Anderson said a $1-a-day reduction would result in a loss of  $292,500 a year.
    There are between 950 and 1,000 inmates in parish detention centers. Of those, 808 are either DOC or out-of-parish prisoners.
    Local municipalities pay the parish $6 a day to house their inmates.
   “We are concerned with the day-to-day operation of our budget,” Anderson said. “He said reducing state and out-of-parish inmates or having the per diem rate cut “would be devastating to us.”
    He said the state can cut its payment by $1 or $2 a day, but “the costs of feeding, housing, health care and supplies continue to rise.”