LAFAYETTE — City-parish department heads are being asked to comb their budgets for cuts as the administration prepares to trim at least $5 million from next year’s budget.
The administration is just beginning to prepare the proposed budget, but under a best-case scenario, $5 million in cuts will be needed to bring expenses in line with revenue, City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said Monday.
Stanley said department heads have been asked to search out reductions because they should have a better handle on what can be sacrificed and what cannot within their own departments.
No specific cuts have been identified, he said.
“That’s a work in progress,” Stanley said.
The administration is holding back on filling 83 vacant positions this year out of the city-parish workforce of about 2,100 full-time employees, Stanley said.
No decision has been made on whether some or all of those positions will be eliminated in next year’s budget, he said.
Eliminating the jobs would save at least $2.8 million in annual expenses, he said, but doing away with the positions entirely could affect public services.
In discussions earlier this year about budget issues, council Chairman Jared Bellard suggested stripping funding for festivals, arts groups and social services agencies from the budget and ending supplemental funding for the Cajundome, a combination of cuts that could save as much as $1.5 million, based on a review of budget documents.
Several council members have spoken against Bellard’s suggestions, and any plan to reduce spending will require the approvala of a majority of the nine-member council.
City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration develops the proposed budget, but the council must approve the spending plan and has the authority to amend it.
The main contributors to Lafayette’s budget woes are sluggish tax collections matched with rising expenses for employee retirement and health care.
Those issues are not new, and city-parish government has spent more money than it generates in taxes and fees for the past five years by dipping into savings that had been built up during better times, according to figures from Lorrie Toups, city-parish chief financial officer.
Last year’s budget used about $9.7 million in savings to cover shortfalls in the city’s general fund, the figures provided by Toups show.
This year’s budget is estimated to use another $5.2 million in savings, although Toups said that estimate is on the high end.
That could bring money in savings below the $7 million mark considered an “emergency” reserve that is generally not used for normal operating expenses.
Durel warned council members during hearings for this year’s budget that the habit of tapping the savings account cannot be sustained.
Durel’s biggest cut in this year’s budget was raises for city-parish employees, eliminating a $2 million expense by nixing the annual pay boost for the first time in a decade.
The administration also implemented a policy to review each vacancy to determine if it needed to be filled.
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