[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish Council meets tonight to vote on Fire Deparment fee

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Aug 21 11:08:46 EDT 2012

St. Bernard Parish Council meets tonight to vote on Fire Deparment fee

Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 8:39 AM

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

The St. Bernard Parish Council is expected to vote on various measures
tonight related to the Fire Department and proposed monthly fees to pay for
its operation from Sept. 1 through the end of the year. The council
previously has proposed a $32 monthly fee that would go on all residents'
and businesses' water bills so that the administration would not have to lay
off any fire personnel for the remainder of the year.

In a public hearing last week, several residents mistakenly thought that fee
was for water services since it is on the water bill. It simply is on the
water bill because that is the avenue the parish has to bill its residents
and businesses, but the fee would go entirely to the Fire Department.
Councilmen have said that fee amount still could be altered during the
council meeting at 7 p.m. today in council chambers. Click here to see
proposed fee ordinance.

In two meetings last week and in previous discussions, councilmen have
proposed that fee and also have proposed that, on the Dec. 8 ballot, parish
voters would decide whether they prefer to replace that $32 monthly fee with
a 20-mill property tax, which would add about $90 -- or about $7.50 a month
-- of the annual tax bill of a $120,000 home that qualifies for homestead
exemption. It would add about $200 a year, or $16.66 a month, to the tax
bill of a $200,000 home.

That ballot language also might be discussed tonight or at the Sept. 4
council meeting. The council also might decide whether the $32 fee would
remain if voters strike down the 20-mill tax. If voters approve the tax, the
$32 fee would be removed, councilmen have stated.

In addition to the fee discussion, Councilman Richie Lewis has placed two
resolutions on tonight's agenda.

One resolution acknowledges that several residents currently are not
receiving water bills and states that if such residents submit their names
within the next two weeks then they could be granted amnesty, with no back
pay penalty or fees required.

After Sept. 4, the resolution proposes that the parish perform an audit of
every address to ensure everyone is fact paying a water bill. Any non-paying
residents who did not submit their names by Sept. 4 would be forced to back
pay all the amount owed.

"If you are not paying a water bill right now and you are getting water
services then we will give you amnesty for the two weeks until the next
council meeting," Lewis said. "Then we will do an audit. So, if you don't
come forward in the next few weeks, we will bill you for as long as we can
prove that you weren't paying your water."

"We want to make sure we have everyone on the books," he said.

Residents can submit their names to the parish Water and Sewer Department at
1111 E. Saint Bernard Hwy., Chalmette, LA 70043 or by phone number,

The other resolution requests "that the St. Bernard Parish President
stringently enforce" the section of the parish Code of Ordinances that
requires fire department personnel to live in the parish.

"It's been on the books for a while but we got away from it since Katrina,"
Lewis said.

During a conversion with a reporter on Monday, Lewis said that he is not
proposing that the resolution affect current fire department personnel but
that it simply be applied to new hires.

During a town hall meeting last week, Fire Chief Thomas Stone said that 30
percent, or 32 out of 108 department personnel, currently do not live in the
parish. Stone says that before Hurricane Katrina, about 95 percent of them
did live in St. Bernard but that immediately after the storm about 70
percent no longer lived here.

Stone said that he has talked about the issue with the council and
administration and that most of the people who no longer live in the parish
are older fire department employees and that most of the about 35 fire
employees who have left over the past few years lived outside the parish.

The parish ordinance referring to the fire department's residency
requirements has three parts. The first states, "All applicants who pass the
civil service test for the St. Bernard Fire Department must be a resident
and registered voter of St. Bernard Parish before being appointed to a
position on the St. Bernard Fire Department."

Part "b" states, "All personnel now employed by the St. Bernard Fire
Department and residing in St. Bernard Parish shall remain a resident of St.
Bernard Parish in order to maintain employment."

And the final piece states, "All personnel now employed by the St. Bernard
Fire Department and residing outside St. Bernard Parish and wishing to
relocate to another residence, with the exception of the purchase of first
permanent residence, shall relocate back into St. Bernard in order to
maintain employment."

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