Port Allen City Council sets January budget hearing

City Council sets January hearing on proposed 2013-14 budget

“We as the council did what we were supposed to do in authorizing the mayor to hire people. What happened after we authorized the mayor, we didn’t have anything to do with that.” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere

City leaders took a step toward Port Allen’s financial stability Monday night by setting a budget hearing in January where interim Mayor Lynn Robertson expects the City Council to finally adopt a 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

But before the City Council entertained a vote to introduce the new spending plan, it had to relive its contentious time with former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter through the presentation of an audit report for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Slaughter served as mayor for 11 months before she was recalled from office on Nov. 16.

Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed Robertson to serve as interim mayor on Dec. 17 after the City Council failed to reach a consensus on the appointment within its 20-day deadline.

The audit report, prepared by accountants from Provost, Salter, Harper and Alford, rehashed many of the issues that prevented the council from approving a 2013-14 budget six months ago.

Robertson and the City Council were told during a special meeting Monday the city would be cited for several internal issues in its annual audit, which will be presented to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor for final approval next month.

In the report, auditors said approximately $25,000 worth in past due fees for customer utility accounts were not collected in the 2012-13 budget year due to a software glitch in the city’s new billing system.

Auditors said Monday night the problem has already been addressed by the current administration.

But auditors panned Slaughter and the City Council for not properly amending the 2012 budget when the mayor’s annual salary and car allowance exceeded authorized amounts.

Slaughter’s $84,960 salary was one of the first controversial issues that ignited tensions between the former mayor and a majority of the council who felt she was improperly drawing her salary after the council had lowered the mayor’s pay to $65,000 a year when it approved the 2012-13 budget before she took office.

The audit report cites the council for not following the July 2 ruling from a state district court judge requiring the council to amend its 2012-13 budget to reflect the higher salary amount. The report criticizes Slaughter as well for not seeking court approval to collect the $84,000 salary.

According to the audit report, the city also violated “specific technical requirements” of its bond covenants and failed to comply with its own personnel hiring procedures.

Auditors said the city could face possible lawsuits from applicants who were not considered for positions because Slaughter ignored the city’s hiring protocol.

“We as the council did what we were supposed to do in authorizing the mayor to hire people,” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said during Monday night’s meeting. “What happened after we authorized the mayor, we didn’t have anything to do with that.”

In a letter presented to the council Monday, auditors also suggested the City Council review all the legal bills paid to attorneys Slaughter hired to represent her in several lawsuits when she served as mayor.

The day she vacated office, the city was slapped with a more than $48,000 bill from Phelps and Dunbar, who represented Slaughter in early court proceedings in the lawsuit Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain filed against Slaughter in February for wrongful termination.

“We noted that in his judgement on July 31, 2013, Judge Alvin Batiste Jr. enjoined and prohibited (Slaughter) from paying lawyers with funds belonging to the (city),” the letter says.

The letter suggests the council determine whether it will force Slaughter to pay the city back for her legal expenses.

Lastly, auditors slammed the city for not adopting a 2013-14 fiscal year budget by June 30 — the end of the 2012-13 budget year.

Since July 1, the city has been operating on 50 percent of the revenue declared in the 2012-13 budget.

A majority of the council in October adopted a 2013-14 budget, but Slaughter vetoed the spending plan a week before the recall election.

The council took strides Monday night to remedy the issue by unanimously adopting an ordinance introducing another proposed spending plan for 2014.

McCain told the council the new budget proposal mirrors the previous budget Slaughter vetoed before vacating office.

“What you’re looking at now is just an operating budget,” McCain told council members during Monday’s meeting. “There aren’t any dramatic changes.”

McCain said the new budget proposal does not have several capital outlay expenditures she had discussed with individual councilmen in the past several weeks. She told city leaders she intends to add those expenditures into the budget proposal before the public hearing on Jan. 8.

“I feel really confident we’ll get the budget passed,” Robertson said after the meeting. “Everyone seems to be on the same page about what they want to see accomplished.”