Mayor eyes law change

Allocation of fire sales tax funds at issue

Brusly Mayor Joey Normand has informed West Baton Rouge Parish officials that he is prepared to go to the state Legislature with a proposal to have the decades-old law, which determines how annual fire sales tax revenue is distributed among the parish’s six fire subdistricts, changed with or without Parish Council support.

Normand delivered the news Thursday night during the Parish Council’s regular meeting.

“It’s a bad law,” Normand said Friday. “We’re going straight to the Legislature to correct a mistake that was made in the e_SSRq90s. If we can get this law changed, we’ll never have to have this discussion again.”

Normand criticized the 1991 law by saying lawmakers adopted a formula that uses an area’s population and its assessed property values at the time the law was passed to determine how sales tax revenue would be split between fire districts in Addis, Brusly, Port Allen, Lobdell, Erwinville and Rosehill.

Normand said his proposal mandates that current population data from the U.S. Census Bureau and property reassessments values from the Tax Assessor’s Office be used.

On Nov. 12, the Board of Commissioners for Brusly’s fire district allocated $15,000 from its budget so Normand could hire an attorney to lobby state legislators.

Currently, the law can be changed only if the governing bodies of Addis, Brusly, Port Allen and the parish unanimously agree on a new distribution plan ­ —which Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot doubts will ever happen.

“We’ve been trying to work on this together for the past two years,” Berthelot said Friday. “We probably presented as many as two dozen different proposals and couldn’t get them to agree.”

Berthelot said Port Allen officials have been the most resistant because the city’s fire district stands to lose the most revenue if updated population and property assessment values are used.

Port Allen currently receives 50 percent of the sales tax revenue pool. The city would lose about 13 percent of its current revenue, according to previous reports.

Berthelot said Normand’s efforts may be “the simplest way” to settle the issue.

However, Council President Gary Spillman said the council wants to know exactly what Normand’s plans are regarding a change to the law before members would take a position for or against the mayor’s proposal.

“I’ve got my own ideas of what may can work,” he said.

At Thursday’s council meeting, Normand said he also suggested combining the parish’s fire subdistricts into one parishwide fire district.

Normand said combining the resources of the various fire subdistricts could potentially settle the dispute over fire sales tax revenue and improve fire service throughout the parish.

“The (parish) needs to have one fire district with one chief,” he said Friday. “For the past few decades we’ve gone from 100 percent volunteer fire departments to more and more paid firemen as a result of additional requirements and necessary training. The fact that we have six fire subdistricts creates this situation where you have divided resources.”

Spillman called it “a good idea” and said he plans to meet with officials in other parishes that have successfully consolidated their fire districts to determine how it can work in West Baton Rouge Parish.

“As far as the legal parts of being able to do it, that’s the part we have to look into,” Spillman said.

Berthelot added: “It’s something that could probably work, but you have six different departments that all have their own piece of the pie. Getting them to agree will be another big issue.”