Interim Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said it would be detrimental to the Police Department if the Metro Council banned city-parish vehicles from leaving the parish boundaries.
The council deferred for two weeks a vote to change the parish’s vehicle policy. However, several council members have already said publicly that they see no compelling reason to change the city-parish’s current policy on take-home vehicles.
The policy change was proposed by Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who said she is attempting to save parish taxpayers money by ending the policy of paying for the fuel for employees who live outside of the parish to take vehicles to their homes.
“I’m trying to find ways to save city-parish taxpayer dollars and be a good steward of that money,” she said.
Baton Rouge police officers are issued take-home vehicles, and their fuel costs are covered by the city-parish.
Dabadie said of his 680 officers who drive police vehicles, 219 live outside of the parish.
In 1991, the parish had a policy that limited public take-home cars to the parish boundary lines, as Marcelle is recommending. But that was later changed to allow take-home vehicles outside the parish as long as it fell within a 24-mile radius from the geographic center of the city.
Dabadie said seven police officers live outside of the 24 mile radius. Three of the seven officers were grandfathered in because they worked for the department before the 1991 policy took effexct, but they reimburse the city-parish for miles traveled outside the parish, he said.
The other four officers drive to the limit in their personal car, and then switch to the police vehicle, Dabadie said.
The 24-mile radius was put into place to make the take-home policy more equitable because some officers who live in nearby cities such as Port Allen, which is in West Baton Rouge Parish, were driving a shorter distance home than those who live in Zachary or Central but were still inside the parish lines.
“It would be a detriment to the department as far as morale,” Dabadie said of the proposed rule to ban city-parish vehicles from leaving the parish boundaries. “You are basically cutting their pay by $5,000 to $7,000 a year and now they have to buy a car.”
He said offering take-home vehicles is a perk for recruitment purposes, but also benefits the public because it means officers can respond more quickly to calls.
Marcelle countered that changing the policy might help in finding more police recruits who live inside the parish and pay parish taxes.
“I sincerely believe that as a city, we should focus on spending dollars in the city of Baton Rouge,” she said.
The Department of Public Works has 51 employees who live outside of the parish who use take-home vehicles. The city police department’s fuel budget in 2012 was almost $3 million and DPW’s fuel budget was $2.5 million, according to information presented to the council.
Marcelle requested a cost analysis of just fuel costs for employees taking cars home outside of the parish, but city-parish staff said sorting the data to that level of detail would not be possible.
In other business, the Metro Council set a public hearing May 8 on a request to create a economic development district to set boundaries for a tax increment financing zone to support a new Costco supercenter planned at Dawnadele Avenue.
Details of the TIF, which include how much of the 2 percent local sales tax will be rebated back to Costco, will be revealed at the hearing, said Marsha Hanlon, city-parish finance director.
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe questioned the fairness of offering the financial incentive to Costco.
“In my district there’s a Super Wal-Mart and a Sam’s (Club), what am I supposed to tell them?” he asked.
Hanlon said Costco would likely distinguish itself with higher wages than other supercenters.