You can’t always get what you want, but Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee can try. Mayor Lee asked the Port Allen City Council to consider a compromise on the items the council voted out of the budget last month, which prompted him to veto it. Approving the more than $1.1 million capital outlay budget with two cuts has been more than enough compromise, Council Member Gary Hubble said.
The Council passed the budget at last month’s City Council meeting after voting to remove the funding of a wash rack for various departments and community events as a line item. The two items account for less than 10 percent of the city’s budget.
“I vetoed the budget based on the fact that those two amendments removed two items from this year’s budget without getting any money for either one of those projects,” Mayor Lee said.
The Wash Rack
The police, roads and drainage, water and gas, fleet management, and wastewater treatment departments would use the proposed wash rack. Together those departments have 39 vehicles and 23 pieces of equipment such as tractors and lawnmowers.
Police officers and public works employees currently use a ten-year-old diesel pressure washer attached to a pump at the public works department to wash vehicles and equipment. There is no available equipment or facility for cleaning the interior of cars. Mayor Lee described the interior of equipment from dump trucks to squad cars as “deplorable.”
The proposed facility would be equipped with a soap and wax wand as well as vacuums and a brush. It would help hold employees accountable for the maintenance of vehicles and equipment, and aid a new program requiring supervisors to inspect city equipment each week to ensure they are cleaned “inside and out” Mayor Lee said.
The city can do without a wash rack at this time and should instead replace the pressure washer and hoses at the current facility, Council Member Carey Williams said. Utility supervisors and the Chief of Police should implement a day of maintenance cleaning on all vehicles and equipment, effective immediately, Williams said.
“In order for you to maintain your equipment you have to give your employees the tools to do the job, and this facility will serve that purpose,” Mayor Lee said.
The mayor raised concerns over the current washing facility creating a health hazard and the potential of the city being fined by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for allowing run-off water laden with oil and chemicals to soak into the ground and run-off into ditches. As is legally required for a washing facility, an oil and water separator was installed almost 10 years ago and shows the plan for the wash rack was in place before his term, Mayor Lee said. However, the separator has not been cleaned or maintained since its installation and will require maintenance before the facility is operable.
Council Member Ray Helen Lawrence expressed particular concern about the water seepage creating a health hazard as she lives close to the facility. She worried the chemicals could emit from the facility to the surrounding area.
Despite the concerns over health hazards and DEQ fines, Hubble said his mind remains unchanged.
“I have no intention of changing my mind, and if I did, I would have never started the amendments. I’m not trying to be stubborn I just still feel the same way I did,” Hubble said.
A majority of the council turned down the community events line item to have more oversight on event expenses. Under the Mayor’s proposal, the community development budget would increase by $15,000 from last year’s $35,000 budget to accommodate a Fall festival event and potentially bring back the farmer’s market at The Depot.
Council Members Hubble and Hugh Riviere both expressed a desire to have events presented to the council on a case-by-case basis to “let events stand on their own merit.”
“I understand Mr. Hubble’s plight that he wants to be accountable and wants to know where taxpayer dollars are going, I’m telling you it’s going to these events that we use to market the City of Port Allen,” Mayor Lee said. “This is something that I feel we need to give back to the citizens of this city and also to promote tourism in the city itself.”
Council Member Carey Williams agrees with Mayor Lee, community events boost tourism and industry, but he’s concerned about a lack of participation.
“The council is only seeking to have effective oversight of how much is being spent on these events,” Williams said. “We are putting out thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to have these events, but are having little participation.”
Williams suggested Mayor Lee implement a plan for the Community Development Director Rose Roche to spend more hours in the field speaking with potential sponsors and gaining life-long relationships.
Community Development Committee Chairwoman Roche, who manages the events and community development budget canceled two Live on the Levee events in 2017 due to lack of sponsorship Mayor Lee told the Council. There was also a surplus of funds from two events last year due to sponsorship fully funding them.
The Veterans Day parade, which Hubble is principal in organizing each year, returned the $4,000 the city provided after it was fully funded through donations and sponsorship. Hubble sent out nearly 600 letters seeking sponsorship for the Veteran’s Day parade, he said.
“I don’t think [the city] does 50 percent of that,” Hubble said. “But you have somebody there that does it full-time.”
The Museum also returned $2,000 to the city last year. The city used the extra funds for the Juneteenth celebration at the end of the fiscal year.
Council member Brandon Brown said he hopes the Council can agree on funding the community events because they bring the city together and boost morale. While some council members are looking for compromise, others aren’t budging.
“Bottom line is taxpayer money needs to be dealt with responsibly,” Hubble said. “These are two areas that I didn’t feel that was happening, and I still don’t.”
The council will vote to override the Mayor’s veto at the Wednesday, July 11 meeting. Without a majority vote, the city will operate on 50 percent of the budget for six months until a budget can be passed.
Update: The Council unanimously voted to override the Mayor’s veto. The budget passed with amendments which cancelled funding for a $70,000 wash rack and $60,000 line item for communit events. Check back for a full article on Wednesday’s meeting.