PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - There is a heated debated about how many employees are necessary to staff drainage pump stations in Plaquemines Parish.
Thursday's council meeting turned into a shouting match at times. The issue stems from the parish recently hiring six new pump operators to fill a void when six other operators retire at the end of the year.
But Parish President Amos Cormier II said the new hires are not experienced operators and he is asking for more money from the council to hire more seasoned operators.
Cormier wants experienced operators to man the stations and have additional operators to back up where they are needed.
Plaquemines Parish has 22 pumping stations. Sixteen of those stations need an operator during heavy rain events.
"I don't understand the reticent of certain council members and their desire to not provide the people of Plaquemines with experienced pump operators and instead giving the people of Plaquemines six trainees," Cormier said.
"The department is actually the way it has been staffed for many many years," Councilman Charlie Burt said.
Burt argued that Cormier is grandstanding for political gain by saying the drainage department is understaffed.
He said funding additional staff is difficult because the parish is facing a $6-million deficit and the parish drainage department is staffed at the same capacity as it was for Hurricane Issac.
"The stations were at 16 and they just used other departments and other personnel to back fill as needed," Burt said. "I think it's caused some unnecessary panic amongst the community, and like I said I think it's politically driven."
Councilman Beau Black also believes the drainage department is staffed appropriately.
He said the head of the department came to the council and specifically asked for seven new hires and that amount was approved.
Black wants the parish to consolidate departments due to the budget shortfall and use money from the BP Settlement to contract much needed work to clear drainage ditches.
"We need to clean ditches that are clogged, culverts that are clogged, grass that's not cut. That's going to affect how the pumps operate and how the drainage takes place. So I am a little bit worried about that," Black said.
But Cormier wants $6-million of the $18-million collected from the BP Settlement to fill the deficit and be used to hire additional staff for drainage.
"I'm not asking to go spend the whole lot of $18-million on pump operators. Our average pump operator pay is about $25,000 to $35,000. An investment of a couple hundred thousand would get the job done, and it's an investment in our parish.
Cormier's budget proposal that fills the deficit with BP funds is getting push back by the council because several members believe balancing the budget should only include reoccurring revenue.
Plaquemines Parish is facing the massive deficit due to decreased oil prices.
The parish government relies heavily on oil production and has laid off hundreds of employees because of it.