Eunice Fire Chief Mike Arnold stands in front of a fire truck built in 1972 at the Central Fire Station. Arnold outlined pay and equipment needs for the department at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. (Photos by Harlan Kirgan)
Robert Johnson, Eunice recreation department director, gave an update on his department at Tuesday’s council meeting. Johnson noted the department has a webpage, eunicerec.com, and can take credit and debit cards at its recreation sites. From left, are Mayor Scott Fontenot, Alderman at-large Jack Burson, Alderman Marion “Nootsie” Sattler and Johnson.
City meeting returns to familiar turf -- finances and needs
The Eunice mayor and aldermen returned to familiar turf during Tuesday’s meeting as they heard a report from Fire Chief Mike Arnold outlining the fire department’s needs.
“It is time that we bring to the attention of the governing board of the city of Eunice certain deficiencies at your fire department,” Arnold said.
The first deficiency Arnold cited is a $9 an hour starting pay for firefighters, but most of his list was about aging equipment.
The department has 10 fire-fighting vehicles and five of those were manufactured prior to 2000. A ladder truck built in 1972 is the oldest vehicle in the fleet, he said.
National standards are that fire pumpers with more than 20 years of service should be retired, he said.
“All of these five units are well past the 20-year mark,” he said.
Tires are to be replaced after 10 years and the department has at least 22 tires that have passed the decade mark, he said.
“To replace just these tires and at least get in the 10-year standard would take over $10,000,” he said.
The department needs 42 air packs and that would cost $280,000, he said. Instead, the department received 18 units from the Richard Volunteer Fire Department, he said.
There are 36 air packs in the department, but their bottles will expire within two years, he said.
“There are many other items that the department is deficient it, but these are the most critical,” Arnold said. “We agreed to risk our lives to protect the citizens of the city of Eunice and the surrounding area, abut we would like to know that we have equipment that will allow us to do so as safely as possible.”
The fire department issues followed observations about police, street and sewer system needs made in 2016.
Aldermen were going to meet on Jan. 17 to introduce two tax proposals, but that meeting was called off.
Mayor Scott Fontenot said the timing was not right for putting tax proposals on the ballot.
On proposal is for an 11.62-mill tax, which would be added to a current 11.62-mill tax. The millage would be dedicated for street and sewer improvements.
The second resolutions would be for a vote to rededicate half of a sales for pay raises and the other half would remain for capital improvements.
The city’s finances, unlike several other local governments and the state, are solidly in the black.
Shirley Vige Jr., CPA, of Vige, Tujague & Noel, delivered an audit for the year ending June 30, 1016, reporting the city had $1.3 million in its General Fund, which had $2.9 million in revenues.
General Fund expenditures were $7 million, but were supported by $4.2 million in transfers of sales tax revenue.
The city’s net position was $6.9 million, but the mayor and Jack Burson, alderman at-large, say the balance is needed for unexpected expenses such as August’s flooding.
“We might look good financially on paper, but if you really want to build on it is going to take more than what we are getting now,” Fontenot said Tuesday.
“I just want the people to know there are concerns. We need to take care of public safety. That’s the number one issue,” he said.
“You could almost make a museum with some of our fire trucks,” he said.
Burson wished the public would make a list of the needed capital improvements and wage deficiencies that need to be corrected.
“The only way to correct that is if we join together and decide we are going to improve the revenue stream to the city,” Burson said.
More than half of the city’s General Fund budget is for the police and fire departments.
Burson noted after the meeting the city uses its balance to fund a street paving project every two years with about a million dollars, but that will never complete what is needed to be done.
A 15-year bond issue has been proposed to be funded by the additional revenue that would provide for a comprehensive capital improvement.
Burson said Crowley, Ville Platte and Basile have millage rates of more than 30, compared to Eunice’s 11.5 mills.
“We’ve have a very conservative run operation,” Burson said.
The city has never operated at deficit in the 22 years he has been on the Board of Aldermen, he said.
There is no outside help on the horizon, he said.
“We used to look for Santa Claus at the state level or federal level. Well, Santa Claus is dead,” he said noting budget problems at the state and federal governments.
“Sooner or later it will be offered to citizens to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’’’ Burson said of the proposal.
“Before you say ‘no’ think about whether you want a 40-year-old fire truck rolling up to your house to put out a fire,” he said.
Don’t blow yard debris into streets
Alderman Dale Soileau emphasized it is illegal to blow yard debris into the street. Soileau said the issue is particularly critical for streets with curg and gutter where leaves fill drainage system resulting in flooding.
Park Avenue traffic flow
Eunice Police Chief Randy Fontenot said since the west end of Maple Avenue has closed some motorists are attempting to use Park Avenue as a four-lane road.
Park Avenue is a one-lane road east and west. The right lane may be used as passing lane when a vehicle is making a left turn, he said.
Additionally, vehicles are not to park on the Park Avenue median. Parallel parking along the median is allowed, he said.
Board OKs plan for adjudicated property
Alderman gave the green light for the mayor to sign an agreement to Civic Source to handle adjudicated property in the city.
Property that has gone to tax sale and not sold ends up being adjudicated, which means the government holds the property.
Ronnie Harris, of Civic Source, said the property usually doesn’t sell because the title is not clear. Civic Source clears the title and then auctions the property online, he said.
The company does not charge the city, but collects a fee from the sale. If sale price exceeds the company’s fee, the surplus is returned to the city, he said.
Chancellor gives LSUE update
LSUE Chancellor Kimberly Russell gave an update on the university. Enrollment was up 20 percent in the spring semester, she said.
The Acadian Center is being renovated to include a one-stop shopping area for enrollment services.
The LSU Board of Supervisors is to meet at LSUE at 1 p.m. March 17.
City won’t fight over Charter office closing
The city won’t challenge the closing of the Charter Communication office on Moosa Boulevard.
Attorney Stan Feucht read a letter from city attorney Vernon McManus about the Charter office closing and recommended the city take no action.
But Feucht said it is possible to the city could shop for another cable television provider.
Tribute paid to Frank
A resolution or recognition and appreciation to the late Carlton Frank Jr. was read into the minutes.