Port Allen council adopts budget, mayor plans veto

The City Council adopted an amended version of Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s 2013-14 proposed budget Wednesday nigh, but the mayor has already said she intends to veto the $8.5 million spending plan because she says it doesn’t properly address the concerns of Port Allen residents and city officials.

Slaughter chided the council’s adoption of the new budget, which is $1.2 million less than her original proposal, because she said it removed key funding for infrastructure projects, much-needed equipment purchases for city departments and $400,000 in proposed spending for legal fees and services.

The mayor said she also would reject the budget because councilmen Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown were not involved in any discussions with Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain and the rest of the five-member council about the amended spending plan.

Brown and Lawrence both voted against the budget’s adoption Wednesday night during a special meeting of the City Council.

The budget’s was approved by a majority vote with councilmen R.J. Loupe, Garry Hubble and Hugh “Hootie” Riviere in support. The three councilmen share a passionate opposition to Slaughter’s original $9.7 million proposed budget.

“I will only approve a budget ordinance that also has input from council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown,” Slaughter wrote in a letter she presented to the City Council on Wednesday night.

“My suggestion is that you get input from other council members at the council committee meeting scheduled for (Nov. 6). If we can reach an agreement, then the budget can be approved at the regular meeting in November.”

Lawrence said she agreed with the mayor during Wednesday night’s meeting and stressed the need for the council to set aside funding toward the creation of a human resources department in the wake of recent employee discrimination settlements the city had to pay to former workers totalling more than $300,000.

Brown asked the council to consider putting off the budget vote until other amendments could be made with his input.

In her letter to the City Council, Slaughter wrote, at a minimum, the council should have approved a budget that included approximately $150,000 in funding for the lease purchase of 18 new Chevrolet Tahos for the Police Department and the purchase of street cameras to enhance public safety in communities prone to crime.

The mayor also stressed the need to fund the creation of a community development position that she intended to pay someone $60,000 annually to seek grant opportunities and oversee the revitalization endeavors for the city’s downtown and riverfront areas.

Slaughter also said in the letter she wouldn’t approve a budget that doesn’t include pay increases for city employees earning less than $40,000 a year.

The mayor’s budget proposal had included an up to 5 percent pay increase for lower-earning city government employees.

Councilmen Loupe, Riviere and Hubble all said they think the $60,000 Slaughter wanted to pay for the new position could be better used on infrastructure improvements or upgrades.

“There are people out there that can write grants on commission,” Riviere said.

“Those people have more of an incentive to write grants compared to someone sitting and getting a $60,000 salary.”

Hubble also tried to introduce a separate ordinance Wednesday night that would earmark more than $100,000 in surplus sales tax revenue for the Police Department to purchase new vehicles.

The item was ultimately deferred until the council’s November meeting so that language in the proposed ordinance could be amended after concerns were raised over its wording.

“If she vetoes it what can I tell you, she’s sending a message,” Hubble said after the Wednesday meeting.

“The budget can be amended through the year. Approving it tonight doesn’t close the door on us making amendments later.

“We needed a budget. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do. Now it’s on her.”

If Slaughter does veto the adopted budget, the council will need a 4-1 vote to override the mayor’s veto at its Nov. 13 meeting.

The council is already four months late approving a 2013-14 budget.

City government operation is in danger of temporarily shutting down if a new budget isn’t approved by the end of December.