LIVINGSTON -- Facing a nearly dry bank account and impending expiration of its annual insurance policy, Livingston Parish Fire Protection District No. 8 will receive a $29,000 loan from the parish to pay the premium needed to ensure operations.
The parish loan came 10 days after Melissa Guitreau confessed to her husband, LPFPD 8 Chief Allen Guitreau, that she siphoned $225,000 from the district's account.
The 90-day loan from the Livingston Parish Council will guarantee the insurance payment that covers the district vehicles, liability and workers compensation. LPFPD 8 must repay the loan when it receives its millage check at the beginning of the year.
"We don't want to get in the habit of doing this, but in an unfortunate situation like this, we didn't want the district to be without," Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said. "The people who serve the fire districts do a great job, they're there when you need them with auto accidents and certainly fires. We need them, and they do a good job."
The parish consulted Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and Parish Council attorney Chris Moody to ensure legality of the loan before the transaction took place, Ricks said.
"It's one of those cases in which they're a component of Livingston Parish government, even though they stand on their own and have their own board," he said. "With all the good the fire districts do, we didn't want them to have any lapse in fire protection."
Ricks has since appointed parish finance director Jennfier Meyers to manage the checking account.
"She will do a good job getting things straight for them until they get things back in order," Ricks said.
With just over $600 left in the district coffers, the French Settlement business community kicked in $9,300 in donations to keep operations intact until the beginning of the 2019. Businesses contributed the additional money to ensure the department would remain intact. Without a functioning fire district, homes and businesses would face a substantial hike for fire insurance premiums.
Quality Engineering, based in the French Settlement/Port Vincent area, led the way with $5,000 for the district.
"We appreciate how they stepped up," Ricks said. "It shows how much the fire personnel are respected."
One district fire chief fears the embezzlement in District 8 could leave a black eye on all of its counterparts across Livingston Parish.
"Everything from fundraising to millage renewal could get a lot tougher," LPFPD 5 chief Joe Koczrowski said. "Things like this give fire departments a bad name."
He recommended a clean sweep of the LPFPD 8 board of directors.
"They need to be able to start back on a clean slate," Koczrowski said. "This whole thing is shame."
Ricks is not sure it would cast a negative light on the other districts.
"I think this was just one of those unfortunate incidents in which someone took advantage," he said. "These people who serve the fire districts do a great job, they're there when you need them for auto accidents, and certainly fires."
The embezzlement occurred less than one year after voters in the district approved a 10-year renewal of a 16.63-mill property tax, which yields approximately $130,000. The renewal passed on an 84 percent approval from voters.