$1.67 million to pay for 20 new firemen
LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Fire Department has been approved for a $1.67 million grant that could pay the salaries and benefits of 20 new firefighters for two years, Fire Chief Robert Benoit said Tuesday.
The money, awarded through a federal program for communities working to beef up firefighting forces, comes as the city has been searching for a funding source to staff two new fire stations that Benoit argues are needed to serve the growing city.
In addition to those needs, nine vacant positions within the department have gone unfilled because of budget constraints.
Benoit said Tuesday that no final decision has been made on the specifics of how the new grant-funded positions will fit into the department’s staffing plan.
“We haven’t worked out the details on how we will spend the money,” Benoit said, saying only that the money will fund 20 new positions.
The fire department now has 245 employees.
The chief said in a presentation to the council earlier this year that from 30 to 60 new firefighters would be needed to staff two additional fire stations and to bring the overall force up to appropriate levels.
Benoit has said that without the expansion, Lafayette could see its fire rating drop from a two to a three when the ratings are re-evaluated next year, a downward shift that could increase homeowners’ insurance rates in the city by an average of 9 percent.
Baton Rouge, Monroe and Shreveport all have fire insurance ratings of one.
The City-Parish Council earlier this year discussed a public safety tax proposal that involved asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax while letting two existing fire and police property taxes expire, bringing a net annual tax revenue increase of about $10 million.
The council deferred action when the tax measure came up for a vote in January and has not revisited the issue.
Despite that, Benoit said he plans to continue advocating for more funding.
“I’m still looking to get as many firefighters on duty as I possibly can,” the chief said.
Benoit said the $1.67 million is from a grant application last year and that the department also applied this year for more money under the same program, called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants.