UPDATE: A bill awaits passage of the Louisiana state Senate this week that would consolidate West Baton Rouge Parish’s six fire sub-districts into one parish-wide fire district by July 1 of next year.
The bill, as approved last week by the state Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs, will scrap an original form of the bill using population and assessment values to allocate monies to the six fire sub-districts. Instead, it will put the power of the purse in the hands of the parish, author of the bill Sen. Rick Ward said.
“We’re going to put the decision-making process in the hands of the parish council and the Parish President, and instead of dealing with a formula like we have for so many years, they [the parish] will be the deciding factor in making sure everything runs properly and the entire parish is taken care of, as opposed to just one area or the other,” Ward said.
After passing the Senate, the bill will go on to a House committee and must pass the full House before it may receive the Governor’s signature.
Ward and Parish President Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot seem confident of the bill’s success, because they say it is a local bill with no opposition.
Berthelot said once the Governor signs the bill, the parish will start the process of consolidating the sub-districts.
He said he expects the parish to form a committee with representatives from every area of the six fire sub-districts: Addis, Brusly, Port Allen, Erwinville, Lobdell and Rosehill.
Under a single parish-wide district there will be one appointed fire chief, Berthelot said.
Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux said Berthelot has urged them: “There will be no layoffs.”
“We have a lot of details to work out,” Berthelot said. “I just want to make sure that we do it right.”
Ward said one of the reasons for the July 1 end-date is that the fiscal years differ among the sub-districts. Berthelot said most have a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, but that some go by calendar years.
Boudreaux previously had concerns that the original bill would take away money from areas of need and high call volume, but Berthelot said the benefit of having one fire district is that the money will all come to the same source.
“We wouldn’t have to split the money…We would put the money where it’s needed,” Berthelot said.
The bill in its original form received opposition from Boudreaux, Erwinville Fire Chief Robbie Smith, Mayor of Port Allen Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter and Port Allen Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence.
Those in favor of the bill were Mayor of Brusly Joey Normand, state Sen. Troy Brown, Baton Rouge attorney and lobbyist Dan Garrett and Mayor of Addis David Toups.
Local and Municipal Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, upon hearing Boudreaux’s arguments in opposition to the original bill April 25, asked that the opposing parties get together and “come back with something that you both can agree to.”
“We want to make sure that people that are poor and old are not impacted by it,” Colomb said, “and we want to make sure that everybody’s treated fairly.”
Ward said he met with parish and local officials Tuesday May 28, at which point all parties seemed to agree on one fire district.
Berthelot offered his support of the bill Wednesday May 29 and Boudreaux and Port Allen City Councilman Hugh Riviere withdrew their opposition.
“We have not read the amendments,” Boudreaux said, “but we have blind faith in Sen. Ward and Parish President Berthelot that the agreements we reached yesterday [Tuesday May 28] during a very productive meeting will be carried out.”
The approval of the bill in state Senate committee comes after almost two years of parish and local meetings on the reallocation of fire protection funds.
In November 2012, Brusly Fire Sub-district No. 2 finally gave Normand the green light to take the issue to the legislature, unanimously approving a $15,000 budget amendment to hire a lobbyist.
Dec. 13, Normand came before the parish council informing them of Brusly’s intent. Normand said then, though he couldn’t speak for his sub-district or the town of Brusly, that he believed the parish would be best served by one fire district.
Ward said the reallocation was presented to him around the first of the year and on Feb. 6 Addis Fire Sub-district No. 1 adopted a motion to appropriate money to the lobbyist, as well.
Parish council member Randal Mouch said May 1 at the Addis Town Council meeting, “It’s really a shame it had to come down to this. To go to the legislature. We’re a parish – our parish is put together where everybody works together. We help Addis, we help Brusly, we help Port Allen, we help everybody, everybody meshes together.”
Toups agreed but said, “If we wouldn’t have done that, where would we be?”
He said the money for the lobbyist was well spent because, “it has pushed it to where we can get a resolution that’s going to be satisfactory to everyone, which is all fire sub-district 1 and 2 were looking for. Everybody gets their fair share. That’s what our fight was.”