Port Allen budget: smooth sailing so far

The City Council on Wednesday kicked off budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year by unanimously introducing a proposed $9.1 million spending plan for the 2014-15 budget year.

And unlike last year, the council’s harmonious introduction of the proposed budget, presented Wednesday night by Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain, has city leaders confident the council will be able to lock in a new spending plan by June 30 — the close of its current fiscal year.

“This should go a lot smoother this year,” Councilman Garry Hubble said after the meeting. “It’s very pleasing to know we’re getting started earlier and we’ll have it in place when it needs to be done.”

The city is entering budget talks just four months after having approved its 2013-14 budget.

The City Council was six months late adopting its current budget due to strife between a majority of the council and then-mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter, who was recalled from office in November 2013 and later defeated in an April special election by the city’s current mayor, Richard Lee.

Lee said Wednesday there are no major new expenditures in the proposed spending plan for 2014-15. McCain and the mayor said it mostly mirrors the city’s current budget.

Lee, who has been in office only a month, took a sideline approach to the budget talks this year as he settles into office.

“I’m allowing the department heads to make those decisions because they are aware of what they need,” he said.

Proposed expenditures are up by $700,000 compared to the 2013-14 budget adopted in January, but McCain said that increase is driven by some capital expenditures the council committed to when it adopted its current budget four months ago.

Those expenditures include $220,000 to purchase six sports-utility vehicles and an additional $7,500 on new computers for the police department. The city intends to spend $375,000 to repair and resurface streets and $12,000 in computer upgrades for the administration.

McCain said the city will likely have to dip into its reserve funds to cover a portion of the projected expenditures.

But on the revenue side, McCain’s projecting a $74,000 increase in sales tax revenue over last year. The proposed budget has a monthly sales tax projection of approximately $212,000.

“I’m very confident we’ll continue on that trend,” she said.

The proposed budget includes some pay raises for employees. Proposed pay increases were recommended by department heads, the mayor and the council’s personnel committee chairman.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on June 11, when the council will likely entertain a vote to adopt it as well.