Baker, LA (NBC33) — Baker will start its next fiscal year without a budget. City leaders are unable to make the numbers balance, but they rejected a plan to give the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Baker City Council spent around two hours Tuesday debating an increase in rates for water and sewer service, ultimately voting down both.
The rate for sewer service would have increased by $2 a month, while the rate for water would have increased $6 a month, from $9 to $15. The increase would have generated approximately $600,000 for the city.
The increases had been proposed several years ago by a consultant, but never instituted.
"The city needs to run these utilities like a business," Baker resident John Abel told the council. "If the business needs to create the money for the fire department, the police department, whatever, they need to increase the utilities to do it."
Some of the money would have gone towards improvements in the utilities, while another portion would have gone to raises for public works employees.
"Six dollars is not much to pay," said Wallace Gibson, a Baker Department of Public Works employee. "Consider what we go through, you know? We haven't had a raise now in about three, four years, so I'm looking forward to a raise."
Gibson was one of many baker city workers to voice an opinion on the issue. All of them spoke in favor of the increases, to protect services and salaries.
"Since I been working at the City of Baker, around about five, six, seven years, didn't never receive a pay raise, not but one time," stated Bill Scott. "And the employees, utilities, public works, all of them work very hard. Very hard."
But the impact on seniors carried more weight than the impact on the budget.
"What about those individuals, those old ladies who are just getting the minimum, five or 10 dollars a week, trying to live on?" Trina Gibson asked the council. "Have you considered them? Where's your heart?"
Former mayor Leroy Davis suggested that a senior discount be reinstated, to make the new rates more palatable.
"And everywhere I go, I ask for senior citizen discounts," he mentioned. "And you see this grey hair up here? Everywhere I go, I get them."
Much of the money generated by the higher fees also would have been transferred into the general fund to support the fire, police, and public works departments. All three have been asked to cut their budgets for the 2014-15 year. Davis told the firefighters and police officers in the audience they could give themselves a raise if they paid more attention to Baker's half-cent sales tax that is dedicated to public safety.
"Shop in Baker," he urged. "Because when you shop in Baker, you're giving yourself a half-cent. All of you, shop in Baker. You might live in Zachary, Central, wherever, but shop in Baker."
Despite the benefits higher rates would have on the city's bottom line, the council majority could not stomach a 66 percent hike.
"I want to look at this again," Councilwoman Joyce Burges claimed. "And I know we can't keep kicking this can down the road, I do know that. But at this time, I just don't believe that our taxpayers deserve this."
After the water rate increase was rejected, the sewer increase was quickly voted down, as well. Mayor Harold Rideau warned that the hikes were necessary, and it would be cheaper to implement them now than in the future.
"If you don't do it now, eventually you're gonna have to do it, and it's not gonna be $15," he said.
Baker will not be able to adopt a budget in time for the coming fiscal year. It must be introduced during a regular council meeting, then voted on two weeks later. Baker has only one more meeting scheduled before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Rideau claimed that his budget proposal still includes raises for city employees, even without the rate increases. But he needs to cut $171,000 more before the budget is balanced, and he said that he will not introduce it until the numbers meet.