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Minden City Council to discuss budget; mayor looking at increasing utility bills by $4 to increase police pay

Minden Police Department
Minden Police Department
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 3:27 PM CDT
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MINDEN, La. (KSLA) - The Minden City Council once again delayed voting on an annual budget for the city in it’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7. Mayor Terry Gardner says this was essentially their last chance to pass a budget before the deadline next Wednesday.

“If we don’t have a budget passed by September 15, we throttle back to 50%,” Gardner said. “After we throttle back to 50%, funding becomes a problem. All of the departments will be affected. We have our utilities department, line crews, water crews, street crews, police and fire departments. Our whole city will be majorly impacted if this budget does not get approved. This was their last opportunity.”

When asked if an emergency city council meeting would potentially be called ahead of next Wednesday, the mayor wasn’t optimistic.

“I’ve called them before and they either don’t vote or don’t show up,” Gardner said.

Ahead of the meeting, a post in support of increasing Minden police officer’s pay was spread on social media, encouraging citizens to attend the council meeting.

Residents and police officers alike urged the council to increase the pay of the Minden Police Department.

“I’m begging as a parent,” said Ashley Turner, one of the Minden residents who spoke Tuesday night. “Protect my baby. Protect your babies. They need your help. I know I could go on and on but I am prayerfully asking you to consider. I understand 50% of the budget might take six months to a year, but these lives, these babies, that little three year old, the 15-year-old they don’t have six months to a year for y’all to decide what to do with this budget and these raises. These kids are dead.”

One resident said the city pays for an officer’s training and they only stay for a year before moving on to a better paying department.

“They don’t want to stay here and get paid minimum wage when they can go stock shelves at Walmart or Dollar General,” said Jaimie Lewis. “I wouldn’t stay in front of a bullet for minimum wage.”

One officer said if the department paid better, they would have a larger police presence in the city potentially being able to prevent more crimes.

“The hardest thing I have ever had to do, and I have had to do it three times in the last two months, is to tell a mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, that their child is gone,” said Joel Kendrick, vice president of the Minden Police Association. “In the past two months, I have watched these three children die. I have to live with that. I have to go home and try to sleep. I have to take my problems to the Lord because I can’t handle this on my own, especially when I know that if there were more of us out there, we could cover more ground and we could have possibly prevented this. Until you sit there and stare at a mother, watching her crumple to the floor, screaming in terror because she will never get to hold her child again, you will not know the tragedy we face every day.”

Officer Jason Smith, president of the Minden Police Association, says the department is down 1/3 of it’s officers, meaning there are typically between 1 and 3 officers on the streets at a time.

“We’ve had two children murdered over the summer,” Smith said. “We need more officers to police the streets. The only way to do that is to increase our starting pay from $13.75 to $16.25 an hour. Morale is low. They feel that the city council doesn’t care about them. They denied another budget tonight and are going to allow our operating budget to go to 50%. Once we use that up there is no more pay for us. This happened last year and it was held up over a petty difference last year and it’s help up over a petty difference this year.”

Smith thanked the residents who came to the council meeting to support MPD.

“The citizens of Minden showed up and showed out for the police department,” Smith said. “We want the citizens to know we are going to police the streets every single day. We are going to be here for you every single day. We have officers working overtime. Our overtime budget is $100,000 because we have so many officers working overtime, but you can count on us.”

One city council member requested the mayor ask the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office to have deputies help patrol the city. Smith says he welcomes any additional help they can get, but still believes if the city increases officer pay, more officers will come to the city.

Before Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Gardner posted on social media asking Minden residents if they would be willing to accept an additional $4 charge on their utility bill each month to increase first responder pay and incentives.

Minden residents can comment their name and address underneath the post on the city’s Facebook page, email the mayor directly at mayor@mindenusa.com or send a post card in the mail to 520 Broadway Street with their information.

Underneath the post, Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper commented his address, adding:

“here’s the deal, I have fought for raises in the Police Dept for years, I’ve watched really fine young officers be hired in Minden, trained, then move to neighboring agencies, Minden spends thousands of dollars hiring, and training, just for those officers to leave for better wages. The Dept is a revolving door. No one in Minden wants an increased utility bill, many people struggle to pay there bill, now. So asking them to vote, yes is not conceivable. Raises have been made in other departments, and no one’s utility bill increased to cover those raises. Would I pay an extra 4.00 dollars you bet I would, I’ve watched these officers struggle to pay there bills, it’s totally ridiculous what these officers are asked to do for the amount of money the City is paying. I have fought for raises for years, only to be shut down. People it’s time, our Department is dwindling, and these dedicated officers are tired and frustrated. It’s becoming very unsafe. Public Safety should be first and foremost, without it, we are all in trouble.”

Gardner says he has had a good response so far.

“We have high utility rates already,” Gardner said. “Everybody knows that. We have the highest utility rates of any city in the state of Louisiana. With that said, when I asked the citizens how they felt about adding a $4 charge for pay raises and incentives for our police and fire departments. I’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.”

Gardner said if he continues to get positive responses, he will take the rate increase proposal to the council for a vote. He says he will be calling for a council workshop very soon.

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