By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Fire District #1 Chief Larry Hess sees the need for more than $5 million in improvements to existing district buildings and communication services, but is backing off an earlier plan to seek an increased millage to achieve those goals.
Hess said he plans to recommend no hike in millage, when the Board of Commissioners meets on Tuesday, July 17, to begin the first stages of preparing the 2013 budget.
The chief had previously said he needed a one-mill hike from the current level of 30 mills.
But now, Hess said, he foresees a revenue stream coming from debt being retired at the end of 2012, that should free up approximately $500,000 a year that is currently paying for big expenses that included fire trucks and communication infrastructure.
The District #1 Fire Board has a voter-approved level of 35 mills, but has operated far less than that in recent years. Hess and the board will begin working on the 2013 budget with comments at the next meeting, followed by a budget workshop on Aug. 4.
Hess said the district needs to move its communication center from the second floor of the police department on Second Street, a job that should cost approximately $1.1 million.
He wants to move the center to the new fire station that will be built off Hwy. 11 in the Johnny Smith Business Park, where the fire district has completed a deal to swap the land and station located on Brownswitch Road, for the property CVS purchased in the business park.
CVS will build the new fire station there, and Hess wants to also build a communications center there, in the location north of I-12 that is considered very safe from hurricane threats. Construction on the new station is expected to start as early as November.
Hess is also looking at the master plan for the fire district and wants to relocate two other stations to improve the fire insurance rating and lower homeowner premiums.
The chief said the Eden Isles Fire Station needs to be located on the south side of I-10 at the Oak Harbor exit, while he also would like to move the Second Street station closer to the Fremaux exit of I-10. That is the location for the new Slidell shopping area, the Summit Fremaux, and Hess is hoping to get a donation of land from the owners there.
The other major expense Hess foresees in the coming year is renovations and improvements to current stations that were built as long as 50 years ago.
“We’ve had a lot of stations needing repairs for many years,” he said. “And we can’t wait much longer. I believe we need between $3 million and $4 million for all of that.’
The board, with new member Troy Brackett joining four incumbents, will take the next few months to finalize the budget.