Pointe Coupee budget OK’d; three question use of revenue

NEW ROADS — Three Police Jury members criticized the approval Tuesday of the Pointe Coupee Parish 2013 operating budget because it includes revenue that has not yet been approved.

The Police Jury adopted the $15.7 million operating budget for 2013 in an 8-3-1 vote at its regular meeting.

Jurors Justin Cox, Kurt Jarreau and Albert Dukes voted against the new budget, Jury Secretary Gerrie Martin said Wednesday.

Martin said Juror Allen Monk was not present during the budget vote Tuesday.

Cox, Jarreau and Dukes said the Police Jury shouldn’t have adopted the budget — which includes $13.7 million in total expenditures — because revenue from a proposed $5 per month drainage impact fee and 4 percent increase for garbage collection were factored into the budget — and both have not yet been approved.

In separate agenda items Tuesday, the Police Jury introduced ordinances for the two increases and set public hearings for their approval on Jan. 14.

However, a 10 percent increase for residential natural gas service was approved by the jury Tuesday.

The three fee increases will equal to approximately a $6 increase for residents.

“As a practice, we shouldn’t pass a budget contingent upon something that might not pass,” Cox said Wednesday.

The $5 drainage fee was proposed by Jury President Melanie Bueche.

The fee is expected to generate approximately $525,000 and provide relief to the budget’s general fund. Treasurer Becky Mayeux said Wednesday the general fund has been used in the past to offset annual shortfalls in the parish’s drainage fund.

Dukes said he doesn’t intend to support the drainage impact fee because it doesn’t guarantee improvements to residential drainage service.

“We’re just placing a fee on people to pay our bills,” he said.

Dukes said the jury should be considering adjusting the parish’s millage rate, which is the second lowest in the state.

The additional money a millage hike could generate would give the jury more financial security in the long run to provide services and run government, Dukes said.

Jarreau called the $5 per month drainage fee a “last minute hope to balance the budget.”

Jarreau said the jury should have reduced spending by cutting employee benefits, or considered layoffs, instead of passing on additional fees to residents.

“We keep spending but don’t have the money to cover what we’re spending. We’re digging ourselves in a hole every year,” he said Wednesday. “I went back eight years and discovered that our payroll has increased by $800,000 over the course of that time.”

Much of that increase is attributed to employee benefits and retirement increases, Jarreau added.

Cox agreed with Jarreau.

“People don’t realize the Police Jury funds a lot of different services within the parish,” Cox said. “You don’t start charging people more money until you bring all the players to the table and ask them to make cuts as well.”