P.A. council defers vote on budget

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

The Port Allen City Council did not vote to adopt the 2013-2014 budget at a regular council meeting on Oct. 9, but instead deferred the vote to a special meeting planned for Wednesday, Oct. 16.

During the regular council meeting, residents and council members alike questioned Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter on the preparation of her 2013-2014 proposed budget.

CFO Audrey McCain has said that the mayor did not work with her on either of the budgets – the one the mayor presented in June and the nearly identical one she presented in September.

Slaughter said she met with department heads regarding their requests for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. She later clarified that when she says department heads she means the fire chief, police chief and Public Works Director, not the CFO and Chief Administrative Officer, despite a majority of the council’s belief that the CFO and CAO are department heads.

Slaughter also admitted to receiving “some assistance” on the budget, but did not initially say who assisted her.

Resident Mary Bennett questioned the mayor on this, saying, “Who is looking at our tax money?”

Councilman Hugh Riviere posed a similar question, at which point Slaughter responded that Dr. Ralph Slaughter, former Southern University System President and her brother-in-law by marriage, helped her with the budget.

The mayor said that Ralph is a city employee - the mayor’s chief-of-staff - but that he is not on the payroll and did not receive compensation for his help.

“I did not pay anything to get help,” she said.

“I haven’t drawn one penny,” Ralph said after the meeting, when he confirmed his work on the budget.

The mayor has also previously said that Ralph does not work in city hall.

Councilman Garry Hubble said after the meeting that the CFO “is not being given the opportunity to do her job.”

He said that preparing the budget is one of the reasons why the city pays the CFO.

The mayor also addressed the list of budgetary concerns expressed by council members in committee meeting the week prior.

Slaughter distributed a letter to council members and explained that she no longer plans to cut the salaries of the CFO and CAO.

Slaughter proposed in June to cut the CFO’s salary by $40,000 and the CAO’s salary by $20,000.

She said in the letter dated Oct. 9, “Since the majority of the council are mainly concerned about the salary of the Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Finance Officer,” she will now compromise on those salaries in order to move the budget forward.

However, a copy of the September proposed budget shows the same “Salaries & Wages” under “General Government” as the June proposed budget. The CFO’s and CAO’s salary fall under “General Government,” McCain said.

Meanwhile, Slaughter still proposes a $60,000, new, full-time “Community Development Coordinator,” to serve as a grant-writer for the city and to manage the city’s downtown and riverfront development, she said.

The mayor also continues to propose $9.7 million in expenditures despite council members’ and residents’ concerns that she is proposing only $9 million in revenues.

“I don’t see where this thing is being balanced,” Councilman R.J. Loupe said.

Riviere accused the mayor of proposing deficit spending, but Ralph said after the meeting, “There is no deficit.”

Ralph explained that the beginning fund balance ($11.5 million) combined with sources of funds is budgeted at $20.5 million. After that, he said, the budget only subtracts $9.7 million to end with a fund balance of $10.8 million.

He explained the additional $700,000 as one-time, primarily special projects, including $150,000 for new police vehicles.

However, Police Chief Esdron Brown said during the meeting that council members would have to agree to $150,000 every year for four years in order to secure a full fleet of new police vehicles, complete with computers.

The council also failed to achieve the four out of five votes it needed to override the mayor’s veto on an ordinance setting the mayor’s salary and clarifying who is a department head.

Following the regular council meeting, the mayor and council failed to meet to discuss the separate fire department budget. Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux waited but there was no quorum present.

Oct. 16, the council also plans to vote on the mayor’s recommendation for city attorney.

Slaughter recommended attorney Lance Joseph, a resident of Port Allen and Assistant Public Defender for East Baton Rouge Parish.

An advertisement for city attorney appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of the West Side Journal but provided no deadline for application.

Slaughter said on Sept. 11, before the ad was placed, that she had been interviewing candidates and was almost ready to make her selection.

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