LAFAYETTE — City-Parish Council Chairman Jared Bellard wants to cut funding for nonprofit groups and use the money for more firefighters.
Bellard pushed the change Thursday as the council reviewed amendments to City-Parish President Joey Durel’s proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins Nov. 1.
Bellard floated the idea earlier this year but had not made a formal move for the cuts until Thursday.
His proposal will come up for a vote Sept. 13, when the council formally adopts the budget.
If past years are any indication, Bellard’s proposal has a dim future.
This is the fifth year that Bellard, with the backing of Councilman William Theriot, has proposed to end supplemental funding for a long list of arts groups and social service agencies, including the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Acadiana and Festival International.
The majority of the nine-member council has repeatedly voted against the cuts.
The main difference this year is Bellard has framed the vote as a choice between public safety and support for nonprofit groups.
His proposed budget amendment would take the nonprofit money, along with funds for city-parish government’s satellite vehicle tracking program, and use it to staff a new station that fire officials have said is needed to serve the growing city.
“This is a public safety issue, and I think we need to fund it,” Bellard said.
Durel has opposed the funding shift, arguing the work of arts and social service groups are vital to the community and the satellite tracking program saves money for the city.
Bellard’s proposal would cut $275,000 for the vehicle tracking program and $672,944 for arts groups and social service agencies, freeing a total of $947,944 to fund salaries for new firefighters.
His proposed amendment, which would need approval of the full council, is one of only a handful of disputed changes to the administration’s proposed budget.
Bellard and Theriot also face opposition for separate proposals to earmark funding for drainage projects in their respective districts.
Bellard has proposed setting aside $200,000 for a drainage project along Teljean Road; Theriot has proposed setting aside $500,000 toward a project to clean a portion of Anselm Coulee.
Councilman Jay Castille, who spoke out against Theriot’s proposal, said the funding for the coulee project would come out of the limited pot of money available for smaller drainage projects across the parish.
“We use it every year, and I don’t want anyone robbing it for a big project,” Castille said.
Among the other proposed changes to the budget is a move by Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux to restore $200, 000 to pay for cutting the grass along the interstates through Lafayette.
The budget had funded the work in prior years, but Durel’s proposed budget stripped funding for interstate grass-cutting as one of many cost-saving measures.
The state is responsible for cutting the grass along the
interstates, but state crews have given infrequent attention to the area, which Boudreaux said needs to be kept manicured because the interstates serve as a gateway to the city.
“I remember the days when the grass was five feet tall,” he said.
No other council members have opposed Boudreaux’s plans, which means the restoration of funding for the interstate grass-cutting likely will go through without the need for a vote on the issue.
The proposed city-parish budget is about $581 million, which includes operating expenses, capital improvements and
the budget for the city-owned utility system.
The operating budget is about $172 million.
There is little wiggle room in the administration’s proposed budget, which has been made tight because tax revenue has not kept pace with expenses.
The proposed budget eliminates funding for 84 positions that have been kept vacant in a hiring freeze that began last year.
There are no planned raises for the employees who remain, except for a state-mandated 2 percent annual raise for firefighters.