Port Allen officials set to tackle budget — again

Members of the City Council said they will adopt a 2013-14 fiscal year budget soon, but it will be an amended version of the one Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter presented to them in September, one with $700,000 in deficit spending.

The council is three months late in approving a new budget.

The council has until December to adopt a new budget or be forced to temporarily shut the doors at City Hall.

“That’s not going to happen,” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said.

“If we have to call special meetings to get it ironed out, that’s what we’re going to do. I know the clock is ticking. I don’t want to go into November and December still talking about this. The employees don’t need the uncertainty.”

Budget talks between the administration and council stalled in June when Slaughter presented the council with her first budget proposal less than 30 days before the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

A majority of the five-member council rejected that proposal, saying it lacked input from the city’s chief financial officer, Audrey McCain, and failed to meet public review stipulations set forth in the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act.

Some council members also expressed outrage at Slaughter’s attempt to slash the salaries of the city’s chief administrative officer by $25,000 a year and the CFO by more than $40,000 a year.

In September, Slaughter presented a second budget proposal, outlining $9.7 million in spending,which mirrors the proposal she presented in June, but with no mention of salary cuts for the CFO and CAO.

In her budget message, Slaughter says her budget proposal addresses some of the priorities of her administration, such as public safety and economic and community development for the city’s downtown area.

The mayor’s budget proposal also touches on revenue issues in the city’s general, water and gas and sewer funds that she says need to be addressed through fee increases for residential utility services.

Slaughter doesn’t mention proposed rate increases in her budget message. During an interview last week, she simply said that would have to be discussed with council members.

During committee meetings last week, the mayor was slammed with a laundry list of questions from the entire council.

Slaughter refused to answer any of them, telling council members the budget could be discussed openly only during the budget hearing, scheduled Wednesday.

Among the council’s concerns were Slaughter’s proposal to spend approximately $150,000 on new police vehicles, allocating $60,000 toward the creation of a community development position, and a more than $60,000 increase in legal expenses.

“We need an explanation of some things that are bloated,” said Councilman Garry Hubble, who serves as chairman of the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee.

“Legal expenses were $27,000 before, now they’re up to $100,000? Why the spike?” he said. “I didn’t appreciate not getting answers.”

These concerns make it highly unlikely a 2013-14 budget will be approved Wednesday night, Riviere said.

“She’s projecting $9 million in revenue but has listed $9.7 million in expenditures,” Riviere said.

“We all need to sit down and look at her numbers and cut where we need to cut; $700,000 is pretty steep.”

The council also asked the mayor to present an itemized breakdown of the salary rates for all city employees included in the 2013-14 proposed budget, but she has not yet done so.

“She won’t sit down and negotiate with anyone,” Councilman At-Large R.J. Loupe said. “But we’ll pass something with amendments.”

Loupe has previously said he would not support a budget from the mayor unless she sat down with McCain and the city’s department heads to iron out the details.

Slaughter placed the blame on McCain for the fact they did not work together on the budget proposal.

“I’m the mayor; I’m responsible for putting together the budget,” Slaughter said. “I feel she should have come to me to work on it and she didn’t.”

Tensions between Slaughter and McCain flared with a wrongful termination lawsuit McCain filed against Slaughter after the mayor attempted to fire McCain in February.

Hubble said he believes McCain’s lack of input in the budget places the city in a dangerous situation.

“I’m not happy with it at all,” Hubble said. “Where on God’s green Earth would you prepare a budget without the financial arm of the city?”

Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence, who historically has supported the mayor, said she doesn’t question Slaughter’s budget as intensely as her fellow councilmen because she was able to discuss many of the budget’s details with the mayor before it was presented.

Lawrence also acknowledged the mayor should be more up front about her spending plan.

“They just won’t come together,” Lawrence said about the mayor and council majority. “I will talk to her about it. She does needs to be more to the point with them.”

Councilman Brandon Brown, who also has supported Slaughter, did not return calls seeking comment.