While the budget battle continues, city officials say day-to-day operations of Port Allen city government are beginning to suffer.
Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter vetoed the 2013-2014 budget on Nov. 4 – a budget that city CFO Audrey McCain said would have allowed the city to operate while council members and the mayor continue to disagree over some items the budget should include.
“It was just an operations budget. It was no fanfare, no frills,” McCain said.
In the absence of a 2013-2014 budget, the city (since July 1) has been forced to operate on 50 percent of last fiscal year’s appropriations.
Slaughter said she wanted the 2013-2014 budget to include funding for a new, $60,000 a year Community Development Coordinator to serve as a full-time grant writer, five-percent pay raises for employees making less than $40,000 a year and $150,000 for a lease-purchase of an entire new fleet of police vehicles.
Council members Garry Hubble, R.J. Loupe and Hugh Riviere seemed willing to give Police Chief Esdron Brown the $150,000 in the form of a budget amendment, but they disagreed that the city needs a full-time grant writer. The 2013-2014 budget prior to the mayor’s veto provided 2.5 percent cost of living increases to all city employees except elected officials and allowed for additional increases. The budget message stated, “These increases do not prohibit the Mayor from recommending additional salary increases for deserving employees provided the increases follow the City’s approved Grade/Step Pay Plan Classification Schedule.”
McCain said of the various issues, “Fight that fight another day, just give me a budget to operate with…That’s why every capital expenditure was taken out (of the budget), that’s why it was done that way.”
McCain said without a 2013-2014 budget, she can’t make any budget adjustments and she can’t recognize additional sales tax revenue.
McCain said she ordinarily could request budget amendments for spending over five percent of budgeted amounts, but that the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act which mandates the 50 percent, “doesn’t say 55 percent, it says 50 percent.”
She said once the 50 percent runs out for each item in each fund, that’s it.
McCain noted in a follow-up email on Tuesday, Nov. 12, that the Louisiana Legislative Auditor said she can “use the recently adopted budget of the fire subdistrict to continue paying in accordance with that budget.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, McCain said some of the city’s vendor invoices had to be pulled because the accounts had no money to cover them.
She said those invoices are not immediate cause for panic, but that, “Next month is going to be a much bigger problem if something doesn’t happen soon.”
McCain said, now, she is most concerned about waning funds for salaries and wages for the fire department.
“I’m thinking that very shortly after this next paycheck (on Nov. 22), it’s going to be a problem,” she said.
Even though the Port Allen Fire Department currently has a 2013-2014 budget, which was approved unanimously by the city council on Oct. 23, McCain said, “The fire sub-district salaries run through the city budget which we do not have.”
Slaughter’s nearly $85,000 a year salary may also hit a snag after the Nov. 22 paycheck.
McCain said Slaughter receives about $3,260 every two weeks and that there is currently about $6,380 available for her salary.
She said Slaughter is good for the Nov. 22 paycheck, but that her first paycheck in December could be about $100 to $200 short.
The city council budgeted about $72,000 for the mayor’s salary in June 2012 (not including car allowance, retirement and benefits). The $72,000 was intended to be split bi-annually as follows: from July 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012 at a rate of about $84,960 a year and from Jan. 1, 2013 to June 30, 2013 at $65,000 a year. Bergeron wanted to lower his nearly $85,000 a year salary but could not do that during his term. The council thus agreed to a lower salary of $65,000 a year beginning with the new mayoral term effective Jan. 1, 2013.
However, since January, Slaughter acted on the opinion of former City Attorney Victor Woods that the council did not properly lower the mayor’s salary last year. She instructed the city’s former payroll clerk to pay her at about $84,960 a year, despite McCain’s requests that the mayor obtain a budget amendment for that amount.
On July 2, a state judge ruled that the council did not properly set the new, lower salary of $65,000 in June 2012. However, the judge prohibited the mayor from exceeding budgeted amounts for her salary unless she obtained a budget amendment or a court order.
McCain said council members’ salaries should be okay through December and police department salaries and other city employees’ salaries should be okay through early January.
When asked how long the city will be able to keep the lights on in City Hall, McCain said the electricity accounts may not become a problem until some time in January.
She said it is difficult to predict with certainty next month’s electricity bill, but that, “Certainly by January, it’s really going to be a problem.”
McCain dispelled the rumors that 50 percent of last fiscal year’s appropriations means exactly six months of operations, from July 1 until Dec. 31.
She said, “It’s not a December deadline, it’s when-you’re-out-of-half-of-the-money deadline.”
McCain said there will be an item on the agenda this week to override the mayor’s veto of the city’s budget. Council members Hubble, Loupe and Riviere voted in favor of that budget on Oct. 23. The council needs four out of five votes to override the mayor’s veto.
Slaughter said when she vetoed the budget, that she hoped council members could agree on a budget to introduce at the Nov. 13 meeting and vote on in December.
McCain said, as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, there were no other items pertaining to the budget on the agenda.