Port Allen fire chief backs fire district compromise bill

Law would merge WBR entities

Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux told the City Council on Wednesday that proposed legislation merging West Baton Rouge Parish’s six fire subdistricts into one parishwide fire district is getting traction in the state Legislature and could mean major fire protection changes if enacted.

Boudreaux said Senate Bill 239, filed by Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Port Allen, also would settle a fight going on for more than two years among parish officials and Port Allen leaders over redistribution of millions of dollars in fire sales tax revenue.

Ward filed the bill on behalf of Brusly Mayor Joey Normand, Boudreaux said. The bill was introduced and heavily amended in the Senate’s Local and Municipal Affairs Committee this week, he added.

Boudreaux said the original intent of the bill was to change the 1991 law using population and assessed property value to determine how sales tax revenue would be split among fire districts in Addis, Brusly, Port Allen, Lobdell, Erwinville and Rosehill.

Normand wanted to persuade lawmakers to change the law to enable federal census figures and property reassessment values produced by the parish Assessor’s Office to be taken into account in calculating how the revenue would be distributed. This would mean additional funds for Brusly and Addis, Boudreaux said.

“We opposed the bill the way it was written,” Boudreaux said during the council’s committee meetings session Wednesday night. “We would have taken a large hit on our revenue (and) it would have been a disproportionate hit when you look at demands and call volume.”

The fire chief said that when Ward met Tuesday with parish officials, a compromise was reached by amending the bill to give the Parish Council all authority for distribution of the sales tax revenue among the fire districts.

If approved by the Legislature, the new parishwide district would be headed by a single fire chief, Boudreaux said.

Councilman R.J. Loupe asked Boudreaux how the change would affect Port Allen’s fire rating.

Boudreaux said such details would have to be worked out if and when the bill wins approval of the Legislature.

“They want to have this done by July 2014,” Boudreaux said. “It’s going to be a huge undertaking. I think it may go smoothly if everyone has a seat at the table.”

In an email earlier Wednesday, Normand called the bill “a giant step in the right direction.”

Duiring a conversation with Port Allen Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere and Boudreaux, Normand wrote, “we agreed that each Fire Board will be presented resolutions urging the Parish Council to pass an ordinance to make one parishwide fire district a reality and we will all urge the passage of that resolution.

“The transition will not be easy and it will be long, however, I believe it will prove to be the right thing to do.”