Baker City Council votes against utility rate increase

Baker City Council set to vote on proposed utility rate increases

BAKER, LA (WAFB) - A quick four to one vote cut short an attempt to bring a little financial relief to the city of Baker. Councilman and former Mayor Pete Heine proposed the city raise the minimum sewer and water rate by six dollars to $16, based on a recommendation from a consultant.  He was also the only council member to vote in favor of the increase.

"We're going to have to live off of what is collected in sales tax and property taxes and it's not near enough to continue to operate as we're operating today," said Heine.

Before the vote the council heard from Baker residents, many of whom said they would support the rate hike despite the fact the times are hard for everyone.

"The water is the only thing that can bring immediate money into the system to help the problem, if not Baker is on the collapse," said resident John Thomas.

The biggest concerns of the night came from the city's police and fire departments.  Police Chief Mike Knaps pleaded with the council to pass the measure, saying his department is down four officers. 

"We are going to lose our fire rating, our crime rating. It's going to happen," said Knaps who added that he has had to cut down on patrols as well.

It's a similar story with the Fire Department.  Fire Chief Danny Edwards says he's lost employees to other departments that can afford better pay.  Edwards calls the situations scary.

"Worst case scenario come budget year, if the revenues are not up where we wish they were... Budget wise we'll have to face more layoffs, maybe close fire stations," said Edwards.

According to Edwards, the city is also now at risk of receiving a lower fire rating which could cause insurance rates to go up.  He says the increased insurance rates would hit commercial properties especially hard and make Baker look less attractive to developers. 

Those who spoke out against the rate increased worried about how that extra money would be spent.  Councilwoman Joyce Burges says that's why she voted no.

"We want to make sure we spend every dollar, that every dollar is spent designated," said Burges.

However, Mayor Harold Rideau says city employees have now gone three years without a raise, and that not passing the rate increase means more cuts to an already tight budget.

"I hate to say it, but I'm emptying my own garbage, my own trash can so we're doing the things we have to do and that's the attitude we've taken," said Rideau.

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