The council and fire department held a lengthy discussion Thursday on how to get the fire department a lower rating with the Public Insurance Association of Louisiana.

The PIAL rating is a 1-10 system, with the lower score being optimal. A lower PIAL rating would effectively lower insurance rates for all Youngsville residents.

According to Youngsville Fire Department Deputy Chief Byron Knott, the department has a 4 rating and, as it currently stands, would struggle to maintain it.

“We came in at 3.5, and there is no half rating,” Knott said. “We were a class 4. The previous administration wanted us to get to a class 3. That was contingent on a second fire station. If nothing happened (after Thursday), we would struggle to keep our 4.

“We have grown, added new businesses and added new housing. We are lacking the basic essentials.”

Knott presented the council a contingency plan to add a second and possibly third fire station, a third fire engine and a cost-effective maintenance plan for the city’s more than 575 fire hydrants. The plan would cost $1.6 million, with the fire department contributing $425,000.

Mayor Ken Ritter expressed his willingness to work with the fire department, but he said current economic times have handicapped his ability to meet all those requirements.

“We’ve made a step in the right direction with the police and fire departments with more staffing,” Ritter said. “The challenge that we have is that we need to come up with a strategy to help the fire department to meet their goals.”

The Youngsville general fund has $2 million. The fire department’s general fund is $1.4 million.

Councilman Matt Romero took issue with the fire department’s willingness to contribute only $425,000 to the effort. “It’s only a 37 percent commitment.”

Knott said the biggest obstacle the department faces is educating both the council and residents about the need to achieve the lower rating.

Ritter, who served as a councilman on the previous administration, said he doesn’t recall ever hearing about the fire department’s needs to achieve the lower PIAL rating. Councilman Jamey Abshire said if this had been brought to the council earlier, it may have been a more manageable situation.

“We could have been addressing these problems, sort of chopping away at it,” Abshire said.

With a second fire station potentially servicing the new Southside High School, Ritter suggested a possible joint effort with the school board could get them further along. Ritter also suggested paying off the balances on the department’s two current fire engines, freeing up funds to purchase a third one.

“We need to be pragmatic about this,” Ritter said. “If we were to pay the balance on the two notes remaining as a one-time thing, that could free up a greater ability to finance a new one. We have already scrapped projects like Arena Park and City Hall. We have to finish our committed projects and we need a partner in this.”