Inside Report: Port Allen faces fiscal time clock

As if the ongoing strife among city leaders in Port Allen weren’t enough, another cloud of uncertainty now lingers over the city: the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, or lack thereof.

On July 1, Port Allen rolled into its current fiscal year with only 50 percent of the revenue it may need for the fiscal year, roughly half of the $8.5 million the city budgeted for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The city is in this precarious situation because Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter couldn’t get a majority of the City Council to approve her spending plan by June 30, the close of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble made it clear to Slaughter they wouldn’t approve a new budget until the mayor sat down with the city’s chief financial officer, Audrey McCain, and other department heads to outline the city’s spending for the new fiscal year.

The three councilman have said they were outraged by Slaughter’s intention to slash McCain’s salary by $40,000 annually and the salary of Adrian Genre, the city’s chief administrative officer, by $20,000 a year.

The councilmen also questioned whether the budget had been properly presented, because Slaughter’s budget proposal lacked an appropriation ordinance, which they said is required by the Louisiana Government Budget Act.

“I’ve talked to a number of corporations, and the consensus across the board is: never present a budget you don’t have your CFO involved with,” said Hubble, who chairs the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee. “(City government) is just like a business. If we’re not going to do that, we don’t need a CFO.”

The ramifications of not having a budget adopted yet became apparent at the council’s Aug. 14 meeting when Police Chief Esdron Brown said his department was recently delayed in responding to a police call because his officers had to jump-start one of the vehicles in his haggard fleet.

Brown is hoping to purchase new police vehicles in the 2013-14 budget year.

On Aug. 19, McCain said the mayor had yet to reach out to her about working on the budget.

“In a June 18 email, I asked her to provide me with the Personnel Services spreadsheets and the expenditure reports provided by each department to assist me in understanding and explaining her budget to the City Council,” McCain wrote in an email to The Advocate. “No response yet to that request.”

The cold war between Slaughter and McCain could be rooted in the ongoing legal battles over the past six months after the mayor tried to fire McCain in February.

The lawsuits stemming from McCain’s assertion of wrongful termination will play out in the 18th Judicial District Court on Sept. 19.

After the council’s committee meeting on Aug. 7, Slaughter told reporters the 2013-14 budget is in the City Council’s court.

Slaughter also said she hasn’t done a line-by-line review of her spending plan with council members and made no indication if she would.

Not having a budget approved places a ticking clock on the City Council because city government could shut down once the administration exhausts the $4.2 million it has to spend.

“You’re allowed to use 50 percent of the previously adopted budget, but that could mean it runs out in a month. It could run out in eight months. As soon as 50 percent is done, it’s done,” McCain said.

That could put the more than 80 city employees temporarily out of work.

“We’re not going to let (this) shut the doors on City Hall,” Hubble said. “Unlike the likes of some people, we have the employees’ best interests at heart. We will not let them falter. It may be a fight, but I hope it won’t be.”

Terry L. Jones covers West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes for The Advocate. He can be reached at tjones@theadvocate.com.