Livingston officials disagree on which budget to follow in 2014

More than a month after Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks vetoed the entire 2014 parish budget adopted by the Parish Council and two weeks after the council overrode Ricks’ veto, parish officials are still at odds over which budget has prevailed.

The dispute has highlighted an apparent conflict between the parish’s Home Rule Charter and state law, and council Chairman Ricky Goff said if officials cannot reach an agreement soon, a judge or other outside party may have to be called in to settle the matter.

The issue is whether the budget the council adopted Dec. 5 was legal at the time of its adoption.

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux has said the council’s budget illegally omitted tax money dedicated to the parish’s road overlay program, fees for the parish legal adviser and grant funds for ongoing projects.

Therefore, the council’s budget was invalid, Perrilloux said, and could not be revived through an override of Ricks’ veto.

Under the parish’s Home Rule Charter, when the council fails to adopt a budget by the end of the year, the president’s proposed budget is considered adopted.

But under the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act, when a budget has not been adopted, “then 50 percent of the amounts appropriated ... for the last completed fiscal year shall be deemed reappropriated” for the next year.

Ricks said his administration is following the charter and moving forward with the budget he proposed in September.

But Goff said the parish should follow state law and restrict itself to only 50 percent of its 2013 budget until officials can agree on a new 2014 budget.

Goff, Ricks, Perrilloux and the parish finance director met Friday to discuss their differences.

Asked Monday how the budget discussions are going, Ricks said, “in circles.”

“I have a budget,” Ricks said. “At this point, it’s full steam ahead until somebody of a legal mind says, no, you can’t do that.”

Goff said the parish president ultimately determines how the situation must be handled.

“It’s absolutely in Layton’s hands to decide if he wants to present a budget that we can adopt and there would be no litigation,” Goff said.

Goff said the two sides are not far apart on the underlying budget issues: legal fees, engineering work for the road program and stretching out the nonrecurring funds propping up the parish’s animal-control program.

“If there was substantial differences in the budget numbers, I could definitely see why we’d be tugging back and forth, but there’s not,” Goff said.

Ricks said he doesn’t want to add any fuel to the fire, but he doesn’t see the point in stopping work to submit a new parish budget.

“We can look at the legal bills or anything else they want to look at and see if we want to restructure things for 2015,” Ricks said. “But I feel comfortable that we have a good budget for 2014, and at this point, we’ve just gone to work.”