Port Allen council balks at proposed budget, will meet again next week

The City Council passed on an opportunity to adopt a 2013-14 fiscal year budget Wednesday night and instead decided to hold a special meeting next week to iron out more of the details from Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s proposed spending plan.

The council decided to put off a vote on Slaughter’s proposed $9.7 million budget after discussing it for more than hour during a budget hearing where the mayor finally addressed the concerns and questions council members presented to her during committee meetings on Oct. 2.

The budget hearing was plagued with several emotional outbursts from the people who filled the council chambers.

The arguments often revisited past accusations of racism against the three white council members from Slaughter’s supporters, most of whom wore T-shirts Wednesday night that read “We Support Mayor Slaughter.”

Councilmen R.J. Loupe, Hugh “Hootie” Riviere and Garry Hubble all said they needed more time to review Slaughter’s proposed budget after she presented the council Wednesday night with a letter providing further detail into many of the questions they raised last week.

Among the council’s concerns were the mayor’s proposal to spend nearly $200,000 on new police vehicles, a $60,000 increase in money allocated for legal expenses and the budget’s projected $700,000 spending deficit that would be covered by budget reserves.

In her proposed spending plan, Slaughter projected revenue at $9 million and expenditures at $9.7 million.

“I’m not voting for it without it being balanced,” Loupe said Wednesday night.

Riviere added, “I want to make sure, in my mind, this all adds up. The first page shows a $700,000 deficit. That’s not a good way to use taxpayers’ dollars.”

The mayor’s proposed 5 percent pay adjustment for employees earning $40,000 or less annually also was heavily criticized by the council Tuesday night.

“I don’t like the way you have the pay raises budgeted,” Loupe told the mayor. “People who have been here 30 years deserve it also.”

Slaughter appeared unfazed by the council’s decision after the meeting.

“The council decided there are some adjustments they want to make and again, this is part of the process,” Slaughter said.

“The budget was presented to them in a timely manner that they were able to go through the entire budget. The only thing I did was come back tonight to point out some of the items that I made changes to as to what I wanted to see happen with the city of Port Allen in the budget.”

In her letter to the council, Slaughter explained her proposed spending by saying the city’s Public Works Director Terry Vincent requested approximately $700,000 in much-needed equipment purchases.

Vincent also asked the mayor to set aside an additional $1.5 million for a five-year road program.

Slaughter told council members the $200,000 budget request for police vehicles was requested by Chief Esdron Brown. Brown told the council Wednesday night that he wants to lease-purchase 18 new Chevrolet Tahoes to replace his fleet of outdated vehicles.

“We’re in real bad shape in terms of cars,” Brown said. “(Cars) are killing while we’re going out on calls. Light bulbs are falling off. It has just been an ongoing problem because of the lack of funding not being given for the police department on a yearly basis.”

Slaughter also wrote the increase in money for legal expenses was an estimate she made based on approximately $400,000 in settlement payments the city recently paid for several lawsuits.

“The budget should be amended to add these payments to the budget,” she wrote.

The council has until December to adopt a new budget or be forced to shut down City Hall if a 2013-14 budget isn’t approved.

Should the council not adopt a budget at next week’s special-called meeting, Slaughter said, “We’ll have to go at it once again until a decision is made.”