LAFAYETTE — A new fire station. New fire trucks. Better starting pay for firefighters.
Fire Chief Robert Benoit made the pitch Monday for $8.2 million in additional funding for salaries, facilities and trucks.
That figure does not include another big-ticket initiative the chief hopes to push — hiring 20 firefighters to bring the force from 283 to 303.
“As long as the city continues to grow and the fire department doesn’t grow with it, it will impact services,” Benoit said Monday in a presentation to the city-parish Future Needs/Funding Sources committee.
The City-Parish Council created the advisory group earlier this year to explore the financial needs of city-parish government.
The committee is expected to issue a report later this year.
Benoit’s presentation on Fire Department needs comes after Police Chief Jim Craft last month gave the committee a $22 million wish list, including a proposal to add 40 patrol officers, build a new police station and add two substations.
The police and fire departments have both strained to keep up with population growth in the city.
Finding extra money for the fire department in the near term could be a challenge, because it is relying on about $1.7 million in federal grants to cover salaries and benefits for 40 firefighters, or 14 percent of the department.
Half of those grant funds go away at the end of this year, and the other half is gone by the end of 2015, meaning city-parish government needs $850,000 million in next year’s budget to fill the hole plus another $850,000 million for 2016 just to maintain current staffing levels.
On top of that, Benoit said he would like to bring starting pay for firefighters up from $2,114 a month to $2,500 a month to make it easier to attract and keep firefighters.
The pay raise, if approved, would bring starting pay for Lafayette firefighters up to the fourth highest in the state, Benoit said.
Local starting pay is now ranked seventh, he said.
Lafayette Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups told committee members Monday that city-parish government has the money to fill the $850,000 hole when the first half of the federal grants funds expire at year’s end.
She said no decision has been made on raising starting pay for firefighters or funding new positions.
“It has not been determined yet. We are working up various scenarios now,” Toups said in an e-mail after the meeting.
Benoit has been vocal in seeking additional resources in recent years and has warned repeatedly that more firefighters and more stations are needed to keep the city’s fire insurance rating from dropping from 2 to 3, a change that could push up property owners’ insurance rates.
“We don’t want to retrograde. We don’t want to go backwards,” Benoit said.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on July 15, 2014, to correct budget figures provided by the Lafayette Fire Department that were inaccurate.