Residents don’t want Baker merger
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council members and Alsen residents who are irate over skyrocketing fire insurance rates argued Wednesday night over the best way to improve the rating and service of the small fire protection district that serves that community.
Some council members proposed that Alsen contract with the city of Baker’s Fire Department. But residents asked for a new board to govern their own department, saying the fire district’s low rating was a result of mismanagement by the current governing board.
In August, the Alsen/St. Irma Lee Fire Protection District’s rating dropped from a 5 to a 10, the lowest possible score. The score suggests deficiencies in the Fire Department’s level of protection and it has caused many Alsen residents’ home insurance costs to soar.
Alsen residents have attended the last three council meetings demanding that the Metro Council intervene. Their representative on the council, Ulysses “Bones” Addison, was absent Wednesday and from the last meeting where the Alsen residents were scheduled to speak.
He did not respond to two phone calls Wednesday evening.
Councilman Chandler Loupe made a motion instructing the Alsen board to meet with the Baker Fire Department and explore a cooperative endeavor agreement that would extend Baker’s services into Alsen.
Baker Fire Department has a 2 ranking, with 1 being the best.
“I talked to Chief (Danny) Edwards and he told me he could do it, he told me it would benefit the Alsen community,” Loupe said.
But Alsen residents balked, saying they don’t want to lose their own fire district.
“We have competent members in our community that want to serve on the board,” Alsen resident Moses Evans Jr. said. “Let us submit ré sumé s.”
Evans said the current fire district board has mismanaged the department and that the district could raise its rating on its own if it had a worthy board to govern it.
Council members also questioned the competency of the current board, citing a city-parish audit that showed the Fire Department had paid employees early, racked up $2,800 in non-sufficient fund bank fees and were not making employees fill out time cards appropriately.
The parish attorney’s office advised the council that it could not disband the board Wednesday because it had not been properly advertised on their council agenda.
“If you like your board and you want your 10 rating, that’s fine,” Councilman Scott Wilson said, defending Loupe’s resolution. “All he’s trying to do is give you an option.”
After objections from the residents, an exasperated Loupe withdrew his proposal.
“I’ll go with whatever they want to do,” he said after the meeting.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards made a motion that the current board work with residents who wanted to join the board and come back with a recommendation to the Metro Council in 30 days; the council unanimously approved Edwards’ resolution.
“Why would we want to work with those people who got us in this mess in the first place?” Evans said after the meeting.
At one point during the meeting, Councilman Mike Walker, who is running for mayor-president against incumbent Kip Holden, accused “the mayor’s office” of trying to prevent the Alsen residents from getting help.
During the discussion, Holden’s chief administrative officer, William Daniel, and Baton Rouge Fire Department Chief Ed Smith had advised the council that extending a fire district’s reach to include Alsen could adversely affect the rating of the larger district.
Walker said he had spoken with the Baker fire chief “who disagrees with Chief Smith and William Daniel.”
“I can’t believe the mayor’s office is up here saying you don’t want to help them,” Walker said. “We’re talking about your lives.”
Holden did not attend the council meeting.
Alsen Fire Protection District board Chairwoman Lorraine Gibson defended the board at the meeting, saying the rating dropped because Alsen only had one fire during the evaluation period and too few firefighters responded to it. Since it was the only fire incident the district was judged on, it weighed heavy against their rating, she said.
Gibson said the department will be rated again early next year, and the board is ordering new equipment, filling positions and searching for a permanent chief in hopes of raising its rating.