GONZALES — Three meetings in the span of 27 hours has sent the Gonzales Emergency Medical Services (EMS) board in a new direction that the Gonzales Emergency Services District #1 (ESD) hopes will improve the embattled organization as it looks to emerge from near financial ruin.
It began Monday afternoon with the regular ESD meeting, in which that board refused to accept the May and June EMS financial reports due to discrepancies noted by ESD Treasurer Donald Rihn. He took issue with a couple of calculations that did not add up, asking EMS bookkeeper and payroll administrator Jo Ann Mercer to go back and correct the documents before resubmitting.
The ESD was joined by new members Linda Carter and Rob Brown, who had been approved by county commissioners that morning and sworn in as the meeting began.
Sitting in the gallery were members of the EMS board. Rihn addressed them at a couple of points, asking where a recently discovered check was deposited after it had been reported missing during recent investigations. He took issue when he learned that the money had been deposited into the rescue and recovery bank account instead of the EMS account. His stance was that if the EMS had raised funds, it should go into the EMS account.
“Why are we getting surprises now?” he pressed EMS members.
ESD members asked what EMS was going to do to return to financial solvency, such as getting a loan. EMS Secretary Barbara Hand stated that they were denied loans and had run out of avenues for cash to pay EMS first responders. She asked rhetorically if they should go “run over somebody” so that EMS would have to pick them up and get paid for the job.
“It's a hard game to have to figure out,” she said.
Discussion was had over the EMS board's ability to meet payroll and get collections, and Hand expressed hope that their newly hired billing company could help them out of the rut. ESD President Rene de la Garza asked if the two boards could have a workshop together next week to hammer out some finer details. Hand asked if it could be held behind closed doors in an executive session and not open to the public, where it was explained that they could not.
De la Garza called for an emergency meeting the next day in order to receive the corrected financials and discuss authorizing emergency monies so that EMS could meet their monthly payroll.
The next morning, ESD met again and went into executive session to deliberate funding EMS in the amount of $50,000 plus an additional $100,000 upon meeting certain conditions. When the board reconvened in open session, a motion to give EMS a $50,000 check for payroll was made, in addition to several points of criteria that EMS would have to meet for the additional $100,000 to keep running. The conditions were:
• Must have 50 percent new EMS board members by Jan. 1, with the first new members needing to come on by Sept. 1;
• Placed a lien on EMS property;
• ESD must be notified of each EMS board member resignation;
• Must replace bookkeeper and payroll administrator Jo Ann Mercer by Sept. 1;
• Half of the $100,000 must be used for payroll and insurance, the other half in operating expenses;
• Must outsource billing to an outside company;
• Contract subject to termination if the above points were not met.
The motion was passed and it was decided that the terms and the $100,000 would be discussed at that night's EMS meeting. If the EMS agreed, the check would be presented.
“We want this to succeed,” said Brown. “We want to help in every way we can.”
Rihn echoed those sentiments, noting that his criticism was directed toward EMS board members, not EMS staff.
Later that night, the EMS board went into executive session at the beginning of their meeting. The session lasted approximately 45 minutes. When the board reconvened in open session, they agreed without discussion to the terms of the ESD's contract for the $100,000. It was then announced that the board would accept the resignation of Sally and Dick Brown from the board.
The meeting went on as planned, with reports from EMS Director Allen Linebrink. It was decided that the ESD/EMS joint workshop will be held in the EMS building this coming Tuesday at 4 p.m. and all directors were asked to attend.