Port Allen shutdown? Fire Dept. might be first to go

The Port Allen Fire Department could be the first department in city government forced to shut down due to a lack of revenue in the wake of Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s veto of the city’s 2013-14 budget, a city official said Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain said the Fire Department could run out of funds in early December after Slaughter vetoed the city’s 2013-14 $8.5 million budget on Monday.

The city could run out of money because there’s no budget in place.

Since July 1, Port Allen has been operating on 50 percent of the revenue in its 2012-13 budget after the City Council failed to approve its 2013-14 budget by a June 30 deadline.

Some council members said they rejected the budget because of concerns over Slaughter’s proposed budget.

A majority of the council adopted an amended version of Slaughter’s budget proposal Oct. 23, which she vetoed Monday.

In her veto message, Slaughter asked council members who voted for the budget — councilmen R.J. Loupe, Garry Hubble and Hugh “Hootie” Riviere — to meet with her and the two other council members, Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown, over the next couple of weeks to iron out her issues with the amended plan.

Slaughter said she wants the council to adopt another budget by Dec. 11.

McCain said the Fire Department is in danger of running out of money before Dec. 11.

“They’re in danger of overspending. They work a lot of overtime,” McCain said Tuesday of the Fire Department.

The Fire Department’s revenue is being drained by two new hires the council recently approved, McCain said.

“Those positions weren’t in last year’s budget,” she said. “They are being trained and paid, but other firefighters are covering those shifts, raking up overtime until they are out of training.

“I told the city attorney this the day after the council adopted the (2013-14) budget so he could tell her.”

Slaughter said Tuesday that information was new to her.

“She didn’t inform me about it,” Slaughter said. “We should be fine. I want to try and work on this budget with them.”

Hubble said he’s concerned the city could be liable if the Fire Department is unable to respond to emergencies because of a financial shutdown.

“The city has been put in serious jeopardy as far as public safety,” Hubble said.

Hubble and other city officials questioned Tuesday whether Slaughter’s veto is even valid.

According to a statute in the Lawrason Act, a state law that spells out how municipalities must function, the mayor had 10 days upon receipt of the 2013-14 budget ordinance to either approve it or veto it.

Councilmen Riviere, Loupe and Hubble questioned the validity of Slaughter’s budget veto because the ordinance was presented to her at 10:04 a.m. Oct. 25.

According to the ordinance certificate, the mayor didn’t return her veto of the measure to McCain until 3:35 p.m. Monday.

“By my calculation, when she turned it over to (McCain) the mayor was five hours late,” Loupe said Tuesday. “We have time limits on this. If the law is saying she violated the time, the veto is a moot point and we still have a budget.”

City Attorney Lance Joseph said the mayor was only required to submit her veto within 10 days. The statute does not mention anything about time within that 10-day period, he said.

It will now take a 4-1 vote from the City Council to override the mayor’s veto.

The council is required to vote on the vetoed budget ordinance during its meeting Nov. 13.