Baker, LA (FOX44) — In Baker, the money troubles of the past are tied into the opportunities of the future. Both came together at Tuesday night's city council meeting.
Baker residents are worried about the cities vanishing cash reserves. They are afraid of the ramifications if the city were to run out of cash. The latest flash point was the travel expenses of council members. Citizens demanded information from John Givens about a trip he took recently to Houston.
"That's our money, we need an explanation and we need it in a timely manner," argued Doug Pennington.
Givens initially refused to comment, then said it was a business recruiting trip, but he said he would not give more details until he was ready.
Other council members discussed their own travels and the way the city reimburses them for their expenses. But Joyce Burges told the crowd it needed to focus on more important issues.
"Yes, we will work with the mayor and we will tighten up some things, because everybody needs to be accountable for what they do," she stated. "But all of this witch-hunting has got to stop."
The city has used most of its surplus to balance the budget the last few years. Councilman Pete Heine has been one of the members most outspoken about the city's dire financial shape. He reiterated Tuesday his claim that the surplus will run out in the fall of 2014 at the current rate.
"But this is the end of the line," he claimed.
Mayor Harold Rideau told the audience that the city would not shut down if the surplus runs dry next year.
"No," he said, "you gotta cut, you cut. You lay off people."
There are no layoffs in the budget approved by the council for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Burges said there is no need for residents to worry about bankruptcy.
"We're going to increase economic development, we're going to keep it positive, so we're not planning on going broke," she stated.
Darnell Waites, the mayor's administrative assistant, unveiled the first phase of the city's economic development plan. He claimed that business will fuel growth in baker more than good schools or safe streets. He said the city will more fully integrate itself with the Baker Chamber of Commerce to promote local companies, but residents need to pitch in.
"When we're doing campaigns, signs are all over this place," Waites noted." Let's put some signs up that say, 'shop in Baker.'"
The biggest piece of the plan could be a partnership with the Southern University Small Business Development Center. It will provide tips and resources specifically geared towards Baker businesses.
"The reason I say God touched us is cause we don't have to pay for any of these services that [it's] giving us," he said. "And all he's going to do is help our businesses grow."
If all goes according to plan, it will allow the city's bank account to grow, too.