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Council shuts down budget discussion

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

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On Monday, July 1 the city of Port Allen entered into a new fiscal year -- with an old budget.

Wednesday, June 26 was to be the first public hearing and council discussion of the mayor’s June 12 proposed budget, but a majority of the city council members shut down the discussion.

Council members Hugh Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble voted not to open the public hearing on the proposed budget, based on their belief that the mayor should have worked in conjunction with the city’s CFO, Audrey McCain, to prepare the budget. Council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown voted yes.

City attorney Victor Woods said that without a public hearing, the budget could not advance to council discussion and/or consideration.

“If the council votes ‘no,’ then there is no hearing, and then the budget does not advance,” he said.

Now, the city will continue to operate on the 2012-2013 budget for a total of six months or “until such time the council can agree on a budget,” according to Woods’ interpretation of the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act.

Woods reminded the council of their “right to amend” the mayor’s proposed budget should they disagree with it. He said, “Something has to happen to move the discussion of the budget along.”

The special meeting was Woods’ final meeting as city attorney, as he resigned the position as of July 1.

Councilman R.J. Loupe said, “until those two people (mayor and CFO) meet with the department heads to come up with a budget to present to the council,” he would not consider moving the budget forward.

At the June 26 special meeting, Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter did not deny that she consulted with the city’s police chief, fire chief and public works director for the proposed budget. When asked if she also met with CFO Audrey McCain and CAO Adrian Genre, Slaughter said, “No, I did not.”

Slaughter later said in the meeting, “I did meet with each personnel except (Fire Chief) Rick Boudreaux. He met with Audrey (McCain). And I asked to be included in that and I was not included.”

Records show as early as April 24 Boudreaux sent emails to the mayor pertaining to the 2013-2014 fire department budget. Boudreaux sent at least four emails, dated April 24, April 29, May 16 and June 3, which receipts show the mayor read. The mayor sent at least one reply on June 4.

May 16, when referencing personnel changes he felt needed to be made prior to the July 1, 2014 consolidation of the parish’s fire sub-districts, Boudreaux said to the mayor: “Please consider my request for inclusion in this fiscal year’s budget.”

Boudreaux also references an impending meeting with the mayor in an April 4 email to Assistant Fire Chief Charles Stephens, saying, “I'm sure the mayor will want to meet on this in the next week or so.”

Boudreaux said that meeting never happened.

Boudreaux also said that the mayor has not provided him with a “complete copy” of her proposed 2013-2014 budget for the fire department.

In an email to council members Wednesday, June 26, Boudreaux said, “…to date I have not been presented with a copy of what Mayor Slaughter has proposed for the fire department’s budget for fiscal 2013-2014. I have had council members and even the media tell me what is in the fire department’s proposed budget, but I have not been afforded a complete copy of the proposal.”

At the June 26 special council meeting, Riviere also contended that the budget was not properly introduced, when Slaughter distributed copies of the budget to council members June 12 but the council did not move, second and vote to introduce the budget ordinance.

Woods said, “It’s not required to have a vote,” to introduce the budget ordinance, citing a document on the Lawrason Act prepared by Jerry Guillot in Feb. 2004 for the Louisiana Municipal Association.

Riviere said he reviewed the budget, but “not the whole, line for line, document.”

Loupe said, “I have not read it completely, either one of the budgets,” referring to the mayor’s budget and a budget previously prepared by the city’s CFO.

Lawrence said she read the budget and that it was easy for her to understand, but added, “I’m not saying I’m totally in agreement with everything.”

Kenny Hebert, owner of Rolling Bear Plumbing and a resident of the parish for 47 years, said it has become increasingly difficult for him to live in Port Allen.

“It gets hard to sit here at these meetings and listen to some of the things that go on,” he said. “Port Allen used to be a city that I wanted to be in. Now it seems like it’s becoming a city that was.”

Hebert announced, “Probably by next year at this time I won’t be a resident of Port Allen,” adding that he has “been looking for a place.”

Lawrence said, “Please don’t leave the city because (of) what’s going on. I feel like we are going to all work as a team.”

Lawrence later said in the meeting, after discussion of the budget could not advance: “We have become the laughing stock of the nation with all of this confusion…Fussing and fighting and stressing – it’s not getting anybody anywhere.”

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