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Budget passed; veto looming

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

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A majority of the Port Allen city council finally approved an amended budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year at a special meeting on Oct. 23.

However, Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter is threatening to veto that budget.

According to Slaughter, the amended budget does not contain funding she believes the city needs, such as for: capital projects, an entire new fleet of police vehicles and other related equipment, such as street cameras, $400,000 in recent legal expenses, her proposed, new $60,000 Community Development position and her proposed five-percent pay raises for city employees making less than $40,000 a year.

In place of the five-percent raises, council member Hugh Riviere suggested a two-step raise for lower-paid employees and a one-step raise for higher-paid employees under the city’s step/grade policy.

However, the amended budget prepared by CFO Audrey McCain contains 2.5 percent pay raises for all employees, except elected officials, whose salaries adhere to the step/grade policy.

McCain, in a revised budget message, attributed the raises to cost of living increases.

She said, “Several members of the Port Allen City Council requested that the budget include a cost of living increase for all full-time employees.”

However, Slaughter expressed concern that the amended budget raises higher-paid employees’ salaries by “almost $2,000 a year,” according to her Oct. 22 letter to city council members.

According to the amended budget, McCain’s salary will increase by about $1,700 a year, CAO Adrian Genre’s salary will increase by about $1,500 a year, Public Works Director Terry Vincent’s salary will increase by about $1,900 a year, and Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux’s salary will increase by about $1,700 a year.

Slaughter noted in her letter, “They are paid from $65,000 to $82,000 (a year).”

Their steps and grades, according to the amended budget, would not change.

Police Chief Esdron Brown’s salary would not be eligible for the increase because he is an elected official.

In all caps, the revised budget message states, “It should be noted that none of the city’s elected officials are included in this increase.”

The amended budget also removes all capital expenditures.

McCain explains in the revised budget message that the city has a long-established policy of obtaining separate approval of “items considered a capital expenditure in excess of $2,000 with an expected useful life greater than one year.”

She states that by asking for separate city council approval of these items, “the city council is in a better position to control spending on large capital purchases.”

However, the mayor warns that she will not allow capital expenditures beyond what is already budgeted, “unless it involves an emergency.”

Slaughter’s June and Sept. proposed budgets included $150,000 for a lease-purchase of an entire new fleet of police vehicles, but because the amended budget omits capital expenditures, $150,000 in funding for police vehicles is not included in the amended budget.

Following the adoption of the budget on Oct. 23, there was a separate item on the agenda for police cars.

Slaughter said, “It would be best that that would be included in the budget itself and not something as a stand-alone item.”

The council expressed willingness to give Police Chief Esdron Brown the full $150,000, based on McCain’s determination of at least $115,000 in additional sales tax revenue. However, the council agreed to revisit the item at a later date.

Slaughter warns that she will only approve a budget that “addresses the needs and concerns of the majority of the citizens of Port Allen” and that “also has input from council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown.”

Lawrence and Brown provided input on Oct. 23, a week after the mayor and city council members received copies of the amended, then-proposed budget.

In Slaughter’s letter the day before the meeting, she recommended that the council wait until a committee meeting on Nov. 6 to receive input from Lawrence and Brown.

“If we can reach an agreement, then the budget can be approved at the regular meeting in November (on Nov. 13),” she said.

Lawrence and Brown expressed much of same concerns as the mayor regarding the amended budget. Riviere suggested hiring a grant writer on commission, rather than creating an entirely new Community Development position to serve as a grant writer.

Lawrence advocated for the Community Development position, saying the position could serve as a dual Human Resources person.

Lawrence has often said in council meetings that the city needs a Human Resources department.

“We wouldn’t have as many lawsuits,” she said.

After Lawrence and Brown provided input, the council voted and council members Garry Hubble, R.J. Loupe and Hugh Riviere voted in favor of the amended budget.

The mayor has 10 days from receipt of the budget ordinance from the municipal clerk (McCain) in order to veto that ordinance. After that, the council would need four out of five votes at the next regular council meeting in order to override the mayor’s veto.

The city council also unanimously adopted an amended budget for the Port Allen Fire Department.

According to documents obtained via a public records request, Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux asked the mayor in May and June for changes to her original proposed budget.

The changes included minor rank changes for some of the firefighters going into the department’s consolidation with the parish next year.

The amended budget shows that McCain made the requested step and/or grade changes to reflect the desired rank, with minimal increases in salary.

The fire department budget operates as a separate budget from the city’s budget.

However, the salaries and wages for the Port Allen Fire Department are contained in the city’s budget.

The city council also unanimously approved the hiring of Lance Joseph as city attorney. The city had been without an attorney since June 30.

Joseph, who most recently served as Assistant Public Defender in East Baton Rouge Parish, said his objective is to represent the city as a whole. “Hopefully we can work together,” he said.

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