BAKER — Nearly a year after the devastating August flood, much of the City Council meeting Tuesday night focused on continued rebuilding and recovery.
Sandra Bowling, head of the National Disaster Recovery Function Team, addressed the council about the team, which was sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Baker with long-term recovery from the flood.
The team will be embedded in the city and hold meetings with a steering committee of residents and other stakeholders to draft a recovery plan.
Another team from FEMA is currently working in Denham Springs, where some 600 people have participated in the process, which has made a big difference in that city, Baker Mayor Darnell Waites said.
“The team wants us to make a list of goals as a community. FEMA won’t be here long, and after they leave we have to take care of ourselves," Waites said. "The plan will help us and it will affect how the city looks, runs, and economic development.”
The city is also working on its own as well as with East Baton Rouge Parish to improve drainage in the city.
Baker needs to be part of a comprehensive drainage plan that includes the Baker Canal and the Comite Diversion in order to prevent flood damage in the future, officials have said.
In addition, smaller scale operations are in place.
“When it rains, I’m wet,” Waites said, referring to his habit of walking around the city, tracking where water travels.
He asked residents to avoid putting grass clippings in drains and placing tree limbs in drainage ditches, both of which need to be clear to allow water to flow.
Assistant Fire Chief Howard Bonaventure also reported that reconstruction is progressing on the Baker Fire Station, which was damaged in the flood.
Currently, the Baker Fire Department is operating out of a mobile office and a mobile home on the fire station property.
Within a month, if construction continues as it should, the firefighters should be able to move into the housing portion of the fire station, Bonaventure said.
Finishing the rest of the station will take a while longer and should cost $700,000, which will be covered by the city’s insurance, Waites added.
FEMA is scheduled to begin picking up manufactured housing units that were provided to residents in January and at that time, Waites said, he will ask the council to end the temporary ordinance allowing such homes in Baker.
“If we don’t do that, people will start buying mobile homes and putting them in the city and we don’t want that,” he said.
In other business, the city will soon sign a contract with certified public accountant Joseph Akanaji to conduct Baker’s audit for the 2016-17 fiscal year. During a special meeting on July 13, the council voted 4-1 to appoint Akanaji’s firm, Bruno & Tervalon.
Council members Charles Vincent, Glenda Bryant, Brenda Jackson and Doris Alexander voted in favor of the appointment, with Pete Heine dissenting.
Baker has been on the state legislative auditor’s noncompliance list since April, due to findings reported by their former auditor, Melvin Davis.
Davis, who conducted the city’s audit for 2015-16 and 2014-15, declined to seek another contract with Baker.
The city has been working with accounting firm Faulk & Winkler, and city finance director and CPA Mary Sue Staples to improve their bookkeeping practices.