GONZALES — A proposed 33 percent pay increase would make the Ascension Parish Council one of three governing authorities in the nine-parish Baton Rouge metro area with members paid $1,600 or more per month.
The Parish Council is proposing to boost member salaries from $1,200 to $1,600 before taxes, parish officials have said.
Under the parish home rule charter, the council has the power to change its members’ pay, but has an upper limit based on the state maximum for police juries. That maximum, which was raised by the state Legislature in 2008, is $1,600 per month.
The Ascension increase would cost the parish an extra $56,839 for a full year in salaries and benefits, a tiny fraction of the parish’s $66.2 million operating budget in 2012.
The council plans a public hearing and vote on the proposed raise at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Parish Courthouse, 300 Houmas St., Donaldsonville.
Also on the agenda is a proposal to add reimbursement for the cost of taxis, buses and other ground transportation when council members travel out of town.
Both changes, if approved, would take effect this year.
Councilman Oliver Joseph, who researched salaries and other payment questions for the council, cited Ascension’s population compared with neighboring parishes and growth since the last raise in 1997.
“We have increased an extra 40,000 to 50,000 people in our parish (since the last council pay raise), and we split all that (population) up you know,” he said in an interview.
The parish had 107,215 residents in 2010, a 52 percent increase since 1997, an addition of 36,710 people during that three-year span, census estimates say.
In the Baton Rouge area, St. Helena Parish police jurors make $1,600 per month while Baton Rouge Metro Council members are paid $1,800 per month in salary and a travel allowance.
Members of the governing authorities for the six other parishes in the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Statistical Area are paid $1,200 per month or less, according to officials with those councils and police juries.
In two parishes just outside the Baton Rouge MSA, governing authority members are paid $1,600 per month: the Tangipahoa Parish Council and the Assumption Parish Police Jury, officials in those parishes said.
Parishes vary greatly on what additional benefits they offer.
In Ascension, council members are eligible for the parish health plan and, in the past, could get a $50 cellphone allowance, a laptop, travel expenses and vehicle mileage in some cases, parish government spokesman Lester Kenyon said.
But cellphones are under review and only two councilmen currently have them, parish officials said.
Joseph said the council also is taking a closer look at its Internet technology policy.
On April 19, the Parish Council voted 7-3 to introduce the salary change, with proponents promising to donate their first year’s pay and opponents saying they could not vote themselves an increase.
In interviews this week, some residents said council members deserve the increase because so much time has elapsed since their last pay hike.
“The way I look at it, they’re willing to do something I’m not,” said Jeremiah Hall, 33, who lives in Sorrento.
Hall, who was detailing his GMC Yukon at Benny’s Car Wash on La. 44 in Gonzales, said he would like the raise put to a vote of the public, however.
First-term Councilman Bryan Melancon, who opposes the increase, said people he hears from are against the raise because the council votes on it.
“I have gotten many calls and had people talk to me on the street. It’s not positive. I can tell you that,” he said.
Tangipahoa and Livingston, two fast-growing parishes that are somewhat more populous than Ascension, have taken different approaches in regard to council salaries.
In Tangipahoa, council members approved a boost from $1,200 to $1,600 per month in late 2005. The change took effect in Jan. 1, 2008, when a new council took office. That year, the parish had a population of 118,621, census data say.
Longtime Councilman Carlo Bruno said council members must cover all expenses from the pay they receive.
“When gas started first rising, and most of our districts are so big,” Bruno said, “we just increased it at that time to try to help cover some of the council expenses. But every council is different. Some of them get mileage. Some of them get cellphones. In Tangipahoa, we do not get any of that.”
In Livingston Parish, which has a population that grew by 51.7 percent between 1997 and 2010, council members are paid $1,200 per month.
The council saw its last raise on Jan. 1, 2004. Councilman Marshall Harris said there are no plans to raise salaries.
“We are probably 10th in population and 49th in tax base. They (Ascension) have a lot more tax base than we got. Our budget won’t allow that, even if we wanted to do that,” said Harris, council Finance Committee chairman.
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