Port Allen council OKs budget; audience applauds much-delayed action

The City Council received a round of applause from residents Wednesday night after it finally adopted a 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

The council’s unanimous agreement on the approximately $7 million spending plan came more than six months after the council was supposed to approve a 2013-14 budget by June 30.

Since July 1 the city has had to survive off of 50 percent of the revenue that was declared in its previous fiscal year budget.

The council’s delay in approving a new budget was mostly due to ongoing tensions between a majority of the City Council and former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter. Slaughter was ousted from office in November following a successful recall effort.

Before she vacated office, Slaughter vetoed the first budget that a majority of the council adopted in October. Slaughter rejected the budget because she said it stripped her proposal of much-needed capital outlay spending she deemed necessary under her administration.

Before Wednesday night’s budget vote, Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain announced more than $600,000 in capital expenditures had been added to the budget.

According to the addendum, the council agreed to set aside $12,000 to upgrade the computer system at City Hall, $180,000 to purchase six new vehicles for the Police Department, $400,000 to implement a road program and purchase equipment for the city’s Road and Drainage Department, and $39,000 for equipment purchases for the city’s Water and Gas Department and its sewer plant.

Also added to the 2013-14 budget was about $156,000 included at the request of various councilmen. Those expenses included $35,000 to cover expenses for Slaughter’s recall election and the upcoming special election in April to select a new full-time mayor.

McCain said the city would use a more than $250,000 increase in sales tax revenue to fund the additional expenditures from the council.

City leaders managed to sail through its budget hearing and lengthy agenda Wednesday night under the leadership of interim Mayor Lynn Robertson without much of the friction that tied up previous budget votes.

Robertson quipped after the meeting that she has no intention of vetoing the new budget.

The only resident complaint concerning the new spending plan was over an across-the-board pay increase earmarked this year for all city employees.

“We have a lot of top (administrative) jobs we’re giving increases to,” Castor Brown said during Wednesday night’s budget hearing.

“A lot of the lower employees are going to suffer under this proposal. The administrative positions are making the big dollar — getting the bigger raises. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere responded by pointing out the new budget gives Robertson the ability to hand out additional incentive-based pay increases to lower paid employees.

“The option is still there for future increases,” he said.

Robertson added, “I’m going to meet with the lower-salaried employees and look at their work history. I’m going to look into raising their salaries.”

With the 2013-14 budget finally put to bed, McCain said she will begin work on next year’s budget “almost immediately.”

The city’s current budget year will end June 30. The city has historically adopted its annual budgets in May, she said.