BAKER — The city’s fire and police chiefs again urged City Council members Tuesday to raise utility rates or provide another solution to provide more funding for their departments.
The council took no action on the matter and did not discuss whether a utility increase would be considered in the future.
Fire Chief Danny Edwards told the council that city firefighters put themselves in danger last Saturday battling a fire at a tire warehouse on Plank Road near Lavey Lane that was estimated to have caused $1 million in damage. Firefighters from Baker and surrounding areas fought the blaze for 12 hours before it was contained.
“When I see my guys busting their asses, it makes me proud and angry,” Edwards said.
“I’m angry because we all see a solution (in raising utility rates). We are underfunded and understaffed. If I lose one of my men in one of these situations, I’m going to point my finger at you and you and you and you,” he said, indicating council members Robert Young, John Givens, Charles Vincent and Joyce Burges, all of whom voted in June against raising utility rates.
Pete Heine cast the lone vote at that time in favor of the increase.
The proposal called for increasing the flat water fee from $9 to $15 per month for residents inside the city. The per gallon usage fee would have gone up from $1.50 to $1.75 per thousand gallons. Calculated based on an average household usage of 4,000 gallons, most homeowners’ per gallon total cost would have increased $1 per month.
Fire Department employees are angry, Edwards said, because they see the council members as choosing politics over doing what is right for the city and public safety.
During a City Council meeting last Thursday called by Burges, more people spoke in favor of the increase than against it, Police Chief Mike Knaps said. He challenged the City Council members to step up and represent the people by raising the rates.
Vincent countered that he resented the implication that council members do not work hard. He said that he is trying to bring business and keep business in Baker.
“If we do that, the city will be just fine,” he said.
Mayor Harold Rideau is working with the Fire Department on a plan to keep its favorable fire rating, Edwards said. Part of the plan, which has yet to be finalized, involves giving the Fire Department another firefighter on duty. There are now six on each shift, but the department needs seven, he said.
A lower fire rating would mean higher property insurance costs for some homeowners and businesses in the city.
The Property Insurance Association of Louisiana rates municipalities on a 10-point scale, with 1 being the highest. Baker currently has a 2 rating. Criteria include the quality of the water system in terms of accessibility to possible fires, number of firetrucks, availability of manpower, and training of firefighters and others involved in the fire system, among other factors.