Top 5 stories of 2015 for Livingston Parish: Development, politics, cops were hot topics _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Colyell volunteer firefighters, from left to right, Donald Davidson, Jerry Parker and Travis Clark, outside Station No. 1 of Livingston Fire Protection District 7, on La. 42 in Colyell in early November. Firefighters are concerned about providing fire protection to new businesses in the area.

Fire authorities from across Livingston Parish convened with government and business officials Tuesday to discuss how to provide service to Colyell as new industrial sites move into the rural fire district.

Chiefs are concerned the volunteer force will be unable to keep up with the new companies, especially because a large pipe fabricator has qualified for a state incentive package that excuses it for 10 years from paying property taxes, including those for fire protection.

Livingston Tax Assessor Jeff Taylor, a Colyell native, called the meeting, which was attended by several chiefs, a local parish councilwoman and heads of the parish emergency preparedness office and the economic development council. Taylor had initially expressed interest in inviting some of the companies expected to locate to the district in the next year, but said at the outset of the summit that government officials first need to sort out the problems that must be addressed.

Colyell will need a new fire station and a ladder truck, the chiefs said. Mark Harrell, head of the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and Larry Collins, president of the Livingston Economic Development Council, promised to look at some sites that may fit the firefighters’ needs. Acreage, road access and proximity to the new businesses will all have to be weighed as the fire district tries to not only provide fire protection but satisfy the insurance companies that set the premiums within the district.

Finding the money to build a station and buy a new truck could prove trickier. A new ladder truck can cost a million dollars, said Chief Joe Koczrowski, who leads a nearby fire district. Even a used apparatus can run hundreds of thousands of dollars, he added. The Colyell fire district is estimated to generate $119,500 in revenue this year.

Taylor wondered if the parish could ask Epic Piping, which has received the incentives package, to donate funding to help the Fire Department. If the district’s fire rating goes up, residents would have to pay higher insurance premiums, so the fabricator could gift the difference to the firefighters to keep everyone’s insurance rates down, including their own, he reasoned. The money could then be written off as a tax deduction. Collins pointed out that the company may be self-insured, which could affect their willingness to donate the money.

There was also some general discussion about working with the company to pay a portion of their future taxes ahead of time, though no specifics were discussed. In such a scenario, a company could provide a local agency funding in the short term, spreading out payments so they send fewer taxes once the tax abatement period expires.

Taylor and the chiefs shot down a few proposals that have been suggested to help purchase land, gear and buildings.

One idea was for Colyell to buy equipment in the short-term, to be paid off once the property tax kicks in 10 years down the road. That won’t work, said Jerry Brook, the Colyell chief, and Brian Drury, chief of the Springfield-area fire district and president of the parish fire chiefs’ association. Companies that sell fire equipment won’t allow such a financing plan because voters could reject the district’s millage when it comes up for renewal in seven years, which would leave the fire districts in debt with almost no income.

Some have wondered if the new companies’ inventory taxes, which have not been waived, could help the fire district through the first 10 years.

“I put the numbers in, and it isn’t enough,” Taylor said.

Collins said he is confident there is a solution to the district’s funding. In the meantime, officials unanimously agreed the parish needs to do more to plan for future development.

“If anybody here wants to know the crux of the matter — (The fire district) didn’t get invited to the table” when plans were being drawn up, Taylor said to murmurs of approval.

“There’s no way that can ever be justified,” Harrell added.

Officials discussed approaching a lawyer to help draw up a checklist to make sure that fire, drainage and other local districts are informed as early as possible when new large industrial campuses are approved.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.