Port Allen Mayor removes CFO budget from agenda, will present new budget at later date

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter has yet to present the 2013-2014 budget to the city council, a budget which must be adopted before July 1 in order to go into effect.

CFO Audrey McCain entered the May 1 city council committee meeting with the budget she prepared, distributing copies to the mayor and city council members; but Slaughter would not allow McCain to present that budget or council members to discuss it.

She had already removed the item from the agenda.

“It was removed... because I’m waiting on information from Audrey, and I see she just gave us the information tonight,” Slaughter said. “That’s the information that I was waiting on, so she and I could work through this and we could present it to the council tonight.”

City Councilman Garry Hubble said the current fiscal year ends next month, June 30 at midnight, and he is a new council member, so he would like a little more time to review the 2013-2014 budget and discuss it in council meetings.

“You have an extensive budget,” he said, referring to the city’s nearly $8 million in expenditures last year. “I for one am not going to be ‘blindsided,’ as they say.”

Slaughter said Monday she is still working on the 2013-2014 budget, making changes to the budget originally prepared by McCain in order to reflect certain improvements for the next fiscal year.

Slaughter said for the next fiscal year she wants to improve police protection, provide for future downtown development and make sidewalk and street improvements.

She expounded on this Tuesday, saying, “I want to make sure the Police Department has the latest technology, such as computers in police cars; and also work to improve the fleet of police vehicles. I also want to enhance the technology and fire equipment.”

Slaughter said she wants the budget to allow for future development of a riverfront hotel and restaurant, and that she wants to “enhance the tourism, arts and entertainment opportunities and enhance the value of properties in the city.”

Chief of Staff Ralph Slaughter said not to worry -- the mayor is going to present the budget in due time, “before the deadline” required by law.

“The mayor might have different priorities than what [McCain] articulated in her document,” he said.

According to Ralph and the mayor, McCain in her budget allotted about $65,000 for the mayor’s salary for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, whereas the mayor currently receives about $85,000.

In accordance with La. revised statute 33:404.1, any changes to the mayor’s salary would have to be fixed by ordinance and the city council could not reduce her salary while she is in office.

Ralph also talked of possibly giving pay raises to those who haven’t seen pay raises in a while.

When asked when the mayor will present the budget, neither Ralph nor the mayor would disclose a date.

“Some things have to have some suspense to it, right?” Ralph said.

“I expect they’re going to try to pick up her budget and run with it,” he said of city council members.

In accordance with La. revised statute 33:362, the legislative powers of the city belong to the city council.

Also, according to Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion 12-0244 for the City of Central, the city council is not required to “adopt or reject” the mayor’s proposed budget “without making any changes.”

Former CFO Claire Sarradet said, “I would hope that they would scrutinize her budget with a fine tooth comb.”

Ralph said if the council makes changes to the budget and the mayor does not like those changes, she may exercise her right to veto the ordinance adopting the budget.

According to La. revised statute 33:406, council members would then receive a written statement from the mayor outlining her reasons for the veto and the ordinance would return to the city council “at its next regular meeting after the veto,” requiring a two-thirds vote, or four out of five council members, in order to override the mayor’s veto.

According to the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act, “All action necessary to adopt and otherwise finalize and implement the budget” would have to be done in open meeting before the end of the prior fiscal year, June 30 at midnight.

If the budget is not presented and adopted until June, then the mayor vetoes the budget, the council could not override that veto until the next regular council meeting on July 10.

However, Sarradet said the council may also call a special meeting in order to adopt the budget.

If the budget is not adopted before July 1, 50 percent of last year’s budget would roll over into this year, according to the budget act.

Also according to the budget act, the proposed budget should be submitted to the city council before it is made available for public inspection.

It should be made available for public inspection “no later than” 15 days before July 1 and 10 days before the first public hearing, with a public notice published in the West Side Journal at least 10 days before the hearing.

The public notice would state, “that the proposed budget is available for public inspection” and “that a public hearing on the proposed budget shall be held with the date, time, and place of the hearing specified in the notice.”

If the public hearing is indeed set for June 12 at a regular meeting of the city council, as McCain’s budget states, or even if a special meeting is called by June 15, notice would have to be published in the May 30 issue of the West Side Journal.

According to the budget act, the public should also be afforded “an opportunity to participate in the budgetary process prior to adoption of the budget.” Hubble said he fears censorship of the public’s input.

There has also been an issue of whether the mayor or the CFO are responsible for budget preparations.

The CFO’s job description, on file in City Hall, states that the CFO, “compiles, projects and monitors budget preparation and control” and “prepares and administers departmental budgets.”

The document, as with all job descriptions for the city, begins with, “Under the administrative direction of the Mayor...”

Ralph said, “Everybody wants to ignore that first line.”

He contends according to La. revised statute 33:404 and the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act that the mayor is responsible for preparing and submitting an annual budget for the general fund and each special revenue fund.

Ralph said McCain should prepare the budget, “Under the administrative direction of the Mayor,” just as she did with former mayor Roger Bergeron.

But the job description goes on to state that the CFO’s work is “self directed with periodic evaluation.”

Sarradet said Monday, “The budget was always clearly my responsibility.”

She said she would first go to the mayor for general direction as far as pay increases and the like, “Just a broad determination of what direction the mayor wanted to take as far as employees went.”

“Once that information was gathered,” she said, “then I would sit down and actually prepare worksheets for department heads to fill out,” with their requests for the upcoming year.

Then, “All of the revenue estimations I would do,” she said.

Sarradet said she had to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, “because there were transfers back and forth among funds.”

“I would bring that to the mayor...and have the mayor actually sign off,” she said, then present the budget to the council.

Sarradet said, “We never had to employ that measure” of reverting to 50 percent of last year’s budget.

In state court documents alleging Slaughter has interfered with McCain’s job duties in direct violation of a Feb. 20 preliminary injunction, McCain’s attorneys said McCain was excluded from budget preparations, in favor of Slaughter doing it herself, “And upon reasonable information and belief [Slaughter] has instructed city officials and department heads not to cooperate with Ms. McCain regarding her statutorily mandated annual budget preparations.”

Once a budget is adopted, it is also a duty of the mayor to follow through with that budget, according to Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion 09-0187 and the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act.

According to the budget act, “The adopted budget and any duly authorized adopted amendments shall form the framework from which the chief executive or administrative officers and members of the governing authority of the political subdivision shall monitor revenues and control expenditures...The adopted budget and any duly authorized amendments required by this Section shall constitute the authority of the chief executive or administrative officers of the political subdivisions to incur liabilities and authorize expenditures from the respective budgeted funds during the fiscal year.”

The next regular city council meeting is Wednesday, May 8, at 5:30 p.m. but no word yet on whether Slaughter will present the budget that evening.

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