Councilman Melvin Toomer engaged in a heated exchange with Chief Stormy Joiner during Monday night’s council meeting over a resolution to explore building a station on US 51 North for the Ponchatoula Volunteer Fire Department.
The council discussed the resolution before ultimately voting 3-2 to approve it. Council members Toomer and Gueldner cast the opposing votes.
“If you want to discuss something that is a public project, by all means, come here to discuss it,” Toomer said. “If we can all find out about it about the same time, that’s fine. What I don’t like is when you hear about it on the streets. That really ... me off.”
Gueldner agreed the council was not given enough time to research the proposal. She and Toomer said they are concerned the city is moving into an action that does not have a price tag.
Joiner argued that the department is looking towards the future and that another firehouse could improve its insurance ratings.
Guelder and Toomer countered that they had spoken to a Property Insurance Association of Louisiana representative who said more fire stations would not affect a department’s rating positively or negatively.
“Right now, the department is barely a 2, and paying for another station won’t affect that,” Toomer said. “Ponchatoula is only about four square miles and has four to five stations. Hammond operates on five stations.”
Toomer also said Ponchatoula will not experience much growth in its future because there is no room to do so.
“Ponchatoula’s not going to grow? I’m going to pass on that,” Joiner told Toomer. “But I invite you to meet me down at the station to look at our books, and we can talk about this more.”
“I can tell you that the ratings are down right now because they’re always sitting on their butts doing nothing,” Toomer said.
Gueldner said she has not decided that she opposes a new firehouse but she would like to revisit the item in the future.
“I think we need to see a projection on how often this would be used and that the city does need to grow,” she said. “Let’s revisit this later. We have limited time as of now, and we need to know if this will be a costly asset.”
The matter was in danger of being tabled when Councilman Jeff Daniels presented a motion seconded by Councilwoman Roslind Batiste.
The resolution would authorize Mayor Bob Zabbia to appy to the Legislature for capital outlay funds for the specific project of building a new fire station. If granted the city would have to match the funds it receives. Councilman Virgil Sandifer reminded the council that the resolution was simply an application.
“I want to remind you all this resolution just allows the mayor to apply for the money,” Sandifer said. “These capital outlay projects can take three to five years to get started. Even if we apply and the Legislature finds the money in two years, we still all have to meet here and discuss it again.”
The council unanimously authorized a purchase agreement for police body-worn camera equipment. Chief Bry Layrisson said the body cameras will not be activated until the final policy has been put into place. Mayor Bob Zabbia expressed his pleasure with the future policy, noting that most departments in Tangipahoa Parish are set to implement body cameras.