BAKER — In a split vote Tuesday, the City Council took the first steps to raising utility rates for residents and businesses in Baker.
Council members Joyce Burges, Pete Heine and Robert Young voted to introduce the ordinances to increase water and sewer rates. Charles Vincent and John Givens cast the dissenting votes.
“I’m against this. I’m against raising rates. But I’m going to vote for it because I have a responsibility as an elected official to run this city,” Heine said.
The final vote on the issue will take place at the council’s June 10 meeting. A town hall meeting for citizens to express their opinions about the proposed increases will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Baker Municipal Auditorium on Groom Road.
The changes would cost the average homeowner between $8 and $15 per month, public works director Julie McCulloch told the council.
The flat rate for water would increase $6 per month and sewer would rise $2 per month. The per gallon usage rate would go up 25 cents per 1,000 gallons, she said.
The rate increase was recommended by a consultant, Mayor Harold Rideau said.
The city must address an $840,000 deficit in the city’s budget before it can be adopted on June 24, Monese Scott, the city finance director, told the council.
The city has been using money from the public works fund to prop up the general fund budget.
Raising utility rates would help address the deficit in the general fund without laying off employees or cutting services, McCulloch said.
The proposal calls for residents to pay a $16 per month flat rate for sewer. The commercial rate would be $18 plus 30 cents per 1,000 gallons used.
Water rates would be a minimum charge of $15 for residents inside the city plus $1.75 per 1,000 gallons used. Commercial customers inside the city would pay $18 minimum as well as $1.75 per 1,000 gallons used.
Residents outside the city would pay an $18 minimum fee for water and $2.50 per 1,000 gallons used.
Commercial customers outside the city would pay $21 as well as $2.50 per 1,000 gallons used.
The proposal also calls for tying utility rates to the Consumer Price Index, which would allow the city to raise rates to keep up with inflation.
In a related matter, the council voted unanimously to allow the mayor to sign a contract for planning and construction of a new fire training facility. The fire tower, maze trailer and classroom trailer would be located on four acres of land at the Renaissance Village property on Groom Road. The land is owned by the state and discussions are underway for the city to lease or buy the property, Baker Fire Chief Danny Edwards told the council.
The proposed training facility could also be used by other fire departments in the parish, he said.
Construction would be paid for using a $179,000 grant from the state and $57,000 from city funds, Rideau said.