Budget battle lingers as Livingston prepares for 2014

Council considers veto override

Livingston Parish Council members are considering an override of Parish President Layton Ricks’ veto of the entire 2014 parish budget approved by the council — a move that could prompt a legal battle to determine whose budget will prevail.

Ricks vetoed the council’s adopted budget on Dec. 19, saying the budget illegally omitted tax money dedicated for road work, funds for the parish legal adviser and grants for ongoing projects.

Ricks said he intends to operate under terms of the budget he proposed in September, which the council introduced Oct. 10 and then slashed on Dec. 5.

On Friday morning, the Council Clerk’s Office published a notice for a special council meeting to be held Monday evening. Two hours later, the meeting was canceled without explanation.

The notice for the meeting had said the council intended to discuss Ricks’ veto and noted that “action may be taken,” alluding to a possible override vote.

The next regular meeting of the council will be held Jan. 9.

Ricks said Thursday he was hopeful the council would see there is little point in attempting an override.

In a letter supporting Ricks’ veto, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said an override would not revive the council’s budget because it was illegal when it was enacted.

The council cannot go back and enact a valid budget because the Home Rule Charter’s deadline for budget adoption is the second-to-last meeting of the fiscal year, Perrilloux said. That deadline passed Dec. 5.

Under the charter, if the council fails to adopt a budget by the end of the year, the president’s proposed budget is considered adopted.

Ricks said in his veto message that he did not have to veto an illegal budget but did so in order to list the reasons for his decision.

He said Thursday that he and Councilmen Ricky Goff, Chance Parent and Delos Blackwell had agreed to sit down and discuss the budget during the first week or so of the new year.

“I’m hoping that we’ll get off to a better start,” Ricks said. “What I’d like to do is just settle down and everybody go to work as a team in 2014.”

Goff said Friday that, regardless of whether the council ultimately decides to compromise on the budget, an override vote is likely.

“I think it will happen, just because it’s a process,” Goff said. “But I do not think there is anything in that budget that we can’t sit down and talk about and work out.”

If the council secures a two-thirds vote of its nine members for an override, the parish may be headed to court to determine whose budget will govern, parish officials have said.

The differences between the budgets are stark: Ricks’ budget includes more than $3 million for the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program, $1.1 million in grants for ongoing road projects and nearly $400,000 for legal services for 2014.

The council deleted those line-items from the budget it adopted, with only Councilwomen Joan Landry and Sonya Collins voting against the deletions.

The council’s changes marked the latest front in an ongoing power struggle between the parish’s two governmental branches over the hiring of an engineering firm for the overlay program and the parish’s soaring legal costs.

Despite the stark differences, however, Finance Director Jennifer Meyers said the only practical effect of the council’s budget would be to delay the road program.

The parish will continue to live up to its obligations to contractors and parish legal adviser Christopher Moody, regardless of whether the council votes to override Ricks’ veto, Meyers said.

“Until the council makes some movement toward reducing fees or some action that will change projected expenses, Mr. Moody will do the work he’s required to do and we will pay the check,” Meyers said.

Likewise, the parish will move forward with preapproved projects and expenses, she said.

“Basically, we’re just going forward with a complete annual budget, rather than the chopped up budget they adopted,” Meyers said.

Goff said he has asked to be named council chairman for 2014 and intends to make it his goal to have the council and president working together in the new year.

“We have got to stop drawing a line and saying someone’s on one side and someone else is on the other,” Goff said. “The only lines we have are the parish lines, and we all live in the same parish and are working for the same people.”