Baker residents likely to pay more for city services

NBC33
Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 4:10pm

The Baker city council has about a week to fix a 21 percent deficit in the 2013-14 budget. Odds are, residents will be asked to fill much of the gap.

The council held a special budget hearing Monday morning with heads of the city's departments, including police, fire, and public works. They spent 3.5 hours coming up with ways to avoid across-the-board cuts.

"I feel very confident that this council that's sitting for the City of Baker has no intentions of reducing any services, as far as police and fire are concerned," police chief Mike Knaps said.

The projected deficit in the budget presented by Mayor Harold Rideau was $1.8 million. Knaps said the city's retirement plan obligations are responsible for the increase in expenses.

In the meeting, Knaps said the council agreed that the department heads could trim non-essential items from their budgets, including advanced training sessions and backup pieces of equipment.

"All the needs will still be addressed and taken care of," he stated. They've just asked us to take all of the wants out of the budget."

Those needs, however, cost more than the city has. The likely solution will be higher fees for residents.

"I think the citizens of the City of Baker will be very pleased to meet their requirement of having to pay a little more to keep the services that they have," Knaps claimed, though he said he understood why some people might want a different plan. "Nobody likes their services' fees to go up on anything. But when you're getting something for that money, you don't mind paying for it."

The city council must pass a budget at its next meeting on June 11.

According to statistics submitted to the FBI, Baker is one of the safest cities in Louisiana.

"That says a lot for a little city like this," Knaps said. We're definitely not the highest-paid police department in the area. We're actually the lowest, but we get the best service because our people are proud to do what they do."

If the 20 percent cuts were to be implemented, Knaps said he would have to lay off seven of the 40 members of the Baker Police Department.

"That would be detrimental," he claimed. "That would move us all the way back, probably to the late 80's, to what we were using to patrol with then, and it just wouldn't work."

He added that reducing his staffing would likely bring a crime wave to Baker.

"We would start having a lot of problems that you're seeing in Baton Rouge here in Baker," he said, "because there just wouldn't be enough people to patrol the city."

Knaps believes the lack of funding for academies to produce new officers is responsible for many of the struggles facing the Baton Rouge Police Department.

"And when they get back to full force, you're going to see a major crime reduction in Baton Rouge," he said. "And we're just not ready to join them and reduce our forces and do that."

Knaps stated that the budget he submitted was smaller than his budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. He also left out an important piece, as he does every year: revenue generated by photo enforcement machines.

"Next month, everybody that drives through this city could decide to be safe and go the speed limit," he reasoned, "and it (would) not take one picture."

Knaps stated that roughly one out of every 300 drivers receives a ticket via photo enforcement. Their fines have a large impact on the police department's operations.

"There's enough money that comes in from the program to offset the cost of replacing our police vehicles," Knaps said.

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