Mayor says more cuts may be needed next year
“People just aren’t shopping and spending money here in Baker. We encourage them to do that.” Aristead Clayton, Baker city finance director
BAKER — The Baker Fire Department has five firefighters working each 24-hour shift instead of six as part of an effort to reduce the city’s deficit spending.
Fire Chief Danny Edwards said the smaller staff won’t affect fire response times as much as change the way the department operates.
Edwards said the five firefighters per shift change was the result of laying off one part-time fire inspector and cutting the number of part-time, contract firefighters from 12 to 8.
The staffing change — which went into effect Friday — was a response from Edwards to a request from Mayor Harold Rideau in September to make some cuts as soon as possible to ward off impending financial ruin from a continuing gap between spending and revenue.
Rideau said Monday that he’s not sure Edwards’ reduction is enough.
“I mean he cut one part-time employee. It shows he’s made an effort and that’s a start,” Rideau said.
“But I can see the handwriting on the wall. Next year we will have to make drastic reductions. I don’t want to cut any services, but we will have to cut back,” Rideau said.
The problem is declining sales tax revenue for the city.
“People just aren’t shopping and spending money here in Baker. We encourage them to do that,” city Finance Director Aristead Clayton said.
The Fire Department receives general fund money as well as money from a special half-cent sales tax dedicated to police and firefighters’ salaries and equipment.
The sales tax fund is running a deficit of about $800,000, Clayton said.
Rideau has said he cannot direct Police Chief Mike Knapps to make specific cuts in his department because he is an elected official.
Rideau said 77 percent of the budget goes to salaries, benefits and retirement.
Clayton also said health insurance contributions for the city have gone up 12 percent this year over last.
“The cost of everything is going up. We may have to raise the cost fees to adjust to the cost of living,” Rideau said.
The only way the city could balance the 2012-13 fiscal general fund budget was to dip into surplus reserves and take out $1.6 million, Rideau said.
The city only has $900,000 or so left in that reserve.
Edwards said he’s concerned that the manpower reduction could affect the department’s fire rating.
The city earned a Class 2 insurance rating after a 2009 rating inspection and is due for another inspection next year.
Insurance ratings range from 10, for areas with no fire protection, to 1, the best possible. Baton Rouge has a No. 1 rating.
The better the fire rating, the lower the fire insurance premiums residents and business owners pay.
“Manpower is something heavily considered in fire ratings,” Edwards said.
The Fire Department has 18 full-time firefighters.
Rideau said city officials will have to look at Fire Department spending again in January to re-evaluate spending and revenue.
“I’m really concerned. One part-time employee might not be enough,” Rideau said.