BAKER — The City Council agreed Tuesday to spend $80,000 for two new Police Department SUVs, using funds from the city’s traffic division.
Although Police Chief Mike Knaps pressed for the purchase, council member Charles Vincent said some of his constituents have questioned why money is being spent on police vehicles when the city is struggling financially.
Mayor Harold Rideau also warned the council that “we are in trouble right now (financially). When the audit report presented at the last meeting shows we had a $1.5 million surplus (for fiscal year 2013-2014), it doesn’t show that the budget surplus was used to balance the 2014-15 budget.”
He added that the $80,000 is being transferred from the traffic division fund, which is also used to pay the salaries of traffic division employees.
The Police Department needs the police SUVs, which include special features for law enforcement, in order to be able to carry all the equipment the officers use, Knaps said. SUVs also last longer and retain their value better than sedans, and the police SUV gets only one mile per gallon less than a police car, he said.
Council member Robert Young was absent due to illness.
The council also voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance that would designate more roads in Baker as sharrows, meaning they would be marked with signs and stencils of bicycles.
The city already has paint, stencils and signs, and needs only manpower to get the job done, Vincent said. He said he and others are already planning to volunteer their labor, so the cost to the city should be minimal.
“Today, I saw a young lady riding a bike near (Southern University) going the wrong way. I also saw two bikers on Lavey Lane going the wrong way. We need to acknowledge that (bicycle riders) are out there and they have a right to be out there,” he said.
Council member Joyce Burges suggested amending the proposed ordinance to add a requirement that riders wear safety gear such as helmets and reflective vests.
Such a city law could open up Baker to lawsuits, especially if the ordinance were not enforced consistently, city attorney Ken Fabre said.
“Most of the streets in my district are just wide enough for cars. I’m concerned that (the sharrows) would give (bicycle riders) a safety factor in their minds that isn’t there,” council member Pete Heine said.
An educational initiative on bike safety is needed along with the markings, he said.
Vincent said he holds a bike safety event in his district every year with safety information and bicycle reflector giveaways, but few people show up.