Lafayette Parish’s new fire rating is in and it’s bad news for homeowners in the unincorporated areas.
The new rating for rural areas is a “high 6” which is up from the previous 5 rating. The City of Lafayette’s fire rating stayed around a 2 (The assessment is based on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the best, 10 being the worst).
That increase is a result of a lack of funding for fire departments and comes only two months after voters shot down a tax to fund rural fire services.
“If you don’t put funding into an organization to provide services and you keep growing, then the services are going to continue to dwindle,” explained Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit.
Because funding for services is dwindling, Chief Benoit said it should come as no surprise that home insurance rates in the unincorporated area will increase between 11 and 20 percent. Additionally, the response times may be slower in those areas.
“It’s been a 15-20 year battle with not having adequate water, not having stations in the right locations, not having the number of stations available to provide fire protection, not being able to have enough personnel to respond in a timely fashion,” the fire chief said.
That rating will stay locked in for the next five years, and if funding doesn’t become available for necessary improvements, the rating could continue to increase.
“It’s only going to get worse from here, it’s not going to get better until we can figure out what the solution is,” said Councilman Kevin Naquin who is the chairman for the rural fire district.
Naquin said December’s tax proposition would have fixed the issues with fire protection in the parish.
“We educated the people and we tried to fix it. We tried to solve the budget crisis, and unfortunately we came up short on the tax so therefore there’s no plans to do anything about it,” he said.
Each municipality has a contract with LCG for fire protection services in the unincorporated areas.
Recently, Youngsville stopped responding to calls that did not involve structure fires (i.e. medical, accidents, gas leaks, etc), after the budget for those services in the parish was cut by 25% for this fiscal year. Naquin said since the parish is facing a budget crisis, the council had to make cuts.
Now, parish leaders are looking at ways to continue services with the money they have.
“We have to move on with it in the hopes of having public discussion and figuring out how we fix this in the future. [People in the unincorporated] will continue to see lack of response and some volunteer fire departments are going to face some serious budget cuts,” said Naquin, who’s district is mainly comprised of people in the unincorporated areas.
“We’re going to always have fire protection in the area, but it may just come from a different station which may take a little bit longer to get there and provide those services,” said Chief Benoit.