Parish President Layton Ricks vetoes entire Livingston Parish 2014 budget

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks speaks to the Livingston Parish Council at the Livingston Parish government building in this May 2012 Advocate file photo . Show caption
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks speaks to the Livingston Parish Council at the Livingston Parish government building in this May 2012 Advocate file photo .

DA supports parish chief’s claim that plan invalid

In a bold move late Thursday, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks declared the Parish Council’s 2014 adopted budget illegal, vetoed it in its entirety and said he would proceed into the new year under his own proposed budget.

The council did not discuss the veto Thursday night during its final public meeting of the year, nor was Ricks present for the meeting.

Finance Committee Chairman Chance Parent said afterward the council likely will consider a vote to override during its first meeting in January.

Ricks’ veto letter, delivered late Thursday afternoon, declares numerous changes the council made to the administration’s proposed 2014 budget illegal, including the deletion of dedicated sales tax funds for the parish’s road overlay program, omission of legal fees for the parish legal adviser and reduction of other appropriations across various departments.

Those changes, along with several procedural faults, violate state laws as well as the parish’s own Home Rule Charter, effectively rendering the entire budget as adopted Dec. 5 invalid, Ricks said.

Because the council’s adopted budget was illegal, Ricks said, the administration will operate under its own proposed 2014 budget, as introduced by the council on Oct. 10.

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, of the 21st Judicial District, supported Ricks’ arguments with an accompanying letter highlighting the legal basis for throwing out the council’s adopted budget.

Perrilloux also said a vote to override Ricks’ veto would fail to resurrect the council’s budget.

The budget must be adopted legally before a charter-imposed deadline of the second-to-last meeting of the year. That deadline passed Dec. 5, but the budget adopted on that date was illegal, he said.

The council’s failure to adopt a budget that adequately accounts for an entire year of reasonably expected expenses violates the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act, Perrilloux said.

The council eliminated appropriations for the parish’s road overlay program in an ongoing feud with Ricks over the hiring of an engineering firm for the job.

The council also deleted funding for the parish legal adviser in an effort to curb the parish’s soaring legal costs.

Perrilloux said those two reductions in particular ran afoul of state law, which requires the parish to use tax funds for their dedicated purpose and to fully fund the District Attorney’s Office, which appointed the parish legal adviser.

Pulling the road work funds from the budget was also an abuse of the council’s authority because it represents an effort to “exercise influence or power over the decision of the administration,” Perrilloux said.

The council also ran afoul of state law procedurally when it made numerous line-item changes to the budget immediately prior to adoption without fully informing the public of those changes or voting on them separately, he said.

In addition, the council failed to forward the ordinance adopting the budget to Ricks in a timely manner, Perrilloux said.

The Home Rule Charter requires ordinances to reach the president’s desk within three business days. The budget adoption ordinance took five.

“There is no question that the council has failed to adopt a legitimate, fiscally responsible budget upon which the parish can adequately and legally operate and pay its obligations,” Ricks wrote in his veto letter.

“Based on the legal determination, it is my position that the adopted council budget is invalid and the veto requirement is, therefore, negated. However, I have decided to follow the veto process and veto the budget in full in order to enumerate and clarify the reasons for this position.”