OPELOUSAS -- After nine months of deliberation and haggling with Parish President Bill Fontenot, the St. Landry Parish Council unanimously passed a $5.3 million general fund budget for 2012 on Wednesday.
Fontenot has disagreed with some of the council’s proposed cuts to his original budget proposal during protracted negotiations.
He specifically objected to the council’s decision to cut the annual salary of Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Lisa Vidrine by $2,356.
In comments before the council approved the budget in an 8-0 vote, Fontenot said he believes he has the authority to change annual salaries of parish employees if he chooses to do so. He said salaries normally appear as one item in a budget.
“I’m confident the president can change salaries and that passing this budget does not lock” the president’s office into accepting a specific salary for an employee, he said.
Last year, Vidrine earned $47,356 as the OEP director, according to the budget passed Wednesday.
Fontenot, who has vetoed six council ordinances since becoming president in January, was asked by council member Timothy LeJeune if he might also veto the budget ordinance.
“Be honest, Mr. Fontenot. Are you really going to veto this budget for $2,000?” Lejeune asked.
Fontenot responded, “I’m going to reserve that judgment for later.”
The budget was originally scheduled for the council’s approval in January, but council members said they first wanted to make cuts in Fontenot’s proposed budget in order to have $1 million more for road construction materials.
In addition to trimming some employees’ salaries, the budget also requires parish workers to pay more for annual health insurance premiums and to use more revenue from a video poker fund for road-related projects.
Council members Jerry Red Jr., Leon Robinson, Fekisa Miller-Mathews and Ronald Buschel were absent for the vote on the budget.
Miller-Mathews attended the public hearing on the budget just before the vote, but she was not present when the vote was taken.
In other matters:
REVIEW OF AUDITOR’S REPORT: District Attorney Earl Taylor said his office is reviewing the findings of a state legislative auditor’s report into alleged credit card receipt irregularities and other issues in connection with the final two years of the former administration of Don Menard.
Fontenot told the council he favors a rapid prosecution if any court action is needed.
“I prefer to prosecute as quickly as possible and to prosecute those who need to be prosecuted,” Fontenot said.
Legal adviser: Taylor also told the council that the parish home rule charter indicates the district attorney is responsible for serving as the legal adviser for parish government.
Assistant District Attorney Andrea West, who has served as council attorney for eight years under both Menard and Fontenot, is assigned to serve parish government, Taylor said.
Taylor said he felt the need to affirm West’s role, since he felt Fontenot had too harshly criticized West’s legal credentials as council attorney in a recent interview with a Lafayette television station. The interview concerned Fontenot’s decision to seek a court injunction after the council overrode five of his vetoes last month.