*Editor’s Note - Due to the West Side Journal’s Tuesday afternoon deadline, the article concerning the P.A. Council Meeting taking place Wednesday, August 14, will be in next week’s edition.
The Port Allen city council will take on a new feat this week.
They are set to introduce an ordinance that will officially set the mayor’s salary, in addition to other municipal officers’ salaries, following a July 2 judge’s ruling that previous practices to set salary were insufficient.
The council typically sets salaries as line items in the annual budgets, but State Judge Alvin Batiste ruled this insufficient for the June 2012 lowering of the mayor’s salary, from about $85,000 to $65,000 a year.
The salary change would have been effective with the incoming mayor on Jan. 1, because Louisiana law mandates that an elected official’s salary cannot be reduced while he or she is in office.
During the Aug. 7 city council meeting, former mayor Roger Bergeron was accused of proposing the salary change in order to slight the incoming mayor.
Bergeron said he proposed the lower salary last year based on his own research and prior to anyone qualifying as a candidate for mayor. He and current mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter eventually headed off in a runoff election last year where Slaughter won a majority 55 percent of the votes.
At the Aug. 7 meeting, there was also some question as to what Batiste’s July 2 ruling actually was – whether the council needed an ordinance or a budget amendment or both for the mayor’s salary, since only $65,000 a year was budgeted but the mayor admits to receiving $84,960 a year “from the very beginning.”
Slaughter tried to introduce a budget amendment for her salary on July 10 and again on Aug. 7, but Councilman Hugh Riviere objected, saying of the judge’s ruling, “It doesn’t say to amend.”
Slaughter disagreed, saying, “According to the judge, this was stated as what needed to happen.”
Riviere seemed intent only on the “separate, stand-alone ordinance” to set the mayor’s salary, based on his belief that that was more in line with the judge’s ruling.
The mayor’s appointed Chief of Staff, Ralph Slaughter, publicly commented during the meeting in agreement with the mayor, but said he thinks a budget amendment is not vital – that the ordinance alone should satisfy the judge’s ruling.
According to an official court document of the judge’s ruling, the mayor cannot exceed budgeted funds for her salary “until such time that either the City’s budget is properly amended to reflect the salary prior to the 2012/2013 fiscal year budget, or Mayor Slaughter obtains an order from the Court requiring a budget amendment.”
CFO Audrey McCain said Tuesday, “A budget amendment is required anytime a particular fund exceeds or is expected to exceed the budgeted amount by 5%. Legislative auditor further requires that a budget amendment occur when a salary account or a salary account grouping exceeds or is expected to exceed the budget amount by 5%.”
According to that standard, if the budgeted amount is $65,000, any amount over $68,250 would require a budget amendment.
Mayor Slaughter said of her much-debated salary after the Aug. 7 city council meeting, “I hope that after tonight, it’s a done deal.”
She said she is ready to move the city forward, “to work with the council members” and to “work through our differences.”
The city is still without a new budget, over a month into the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux said the lack of appropriated funds is presenting problems for his department with properly insuring fire vehicles.
He said they were able to make a partial payment in July for the current fire vehicles but that a new $305,000 heavy rescue truck delivered to the fire station Tuesday remains uninsured.
“With no approved budget, we have spent every penny that we have,” Boudreaux said, “to insure the current trucks, stations, management liability, and malpractice insurance for the department.”
He said the department could limit their liability by keeping the truck in the station, but said, “It’s also not covered in the station if something happens to the station…The truck is not covered by the building insurance.”
Slaughter said she wants to make sure that all departments have money available, but that, “It all lies in the hands of the council making that decision to go ahead and approve that budget.”
Slaughter introduced a budget to the city council on June 12, but a majority of the city council shot down its introduction and discussion at a June 26 public hearing. The 2012-2013 fiscal year ended June 30 at midnight. According to the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act, the city has six months from that date to continue on the old budget until funds run dry.