St. Landry questions delay in budget presentation

OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council will consider adopting the parish’s 2014 parish government budget on Nov. 20, but one councilman has a problem with how the process has been handled.

Council attorney Lance Pitre said the proposed budget introduction item on the meeting agenda violated two provisions of the Home Rule Charter, which governs how parish government operates.

Pitre said the Charter says the budget must be introduced within at least 90 of its adoption.

“If that was the case, this should have been presented to the council back in September,” Pitre said.

Pitre said budget introductions, according to the Charter, also must be done at a regular council meeting. The council’s meeting Thursday night was a special meeting.

Ten of the council’s 13 elected members attended. Absent were Fekisha Miller-Mathews, Alvin Stelly and Dexter Brown.

Parish President Bill Fontenot said the reason for the delay in the budget introduction was due to the Oct. 19 election on a two-cents sales tax inside the unincorporated areas for road improvement. The tax proposition was approved and Fontenot said he wanted the tax revenue included in the 2014 proposed budget.

“The reason why we waited is because we wanted to present (the council) with a complete budget, depending upon what the results of the election were,” Fontenot said.

The tax, which goes into effect Jan. 1, coincides with the start of the council’s 2014 fiscal year.

Chief Administrative Officer Jessie Bellard said the proposed 2014 general fund budget mirrors the expenses and revenues contained in the budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

In a related matter ,the council also scheduled a Nov. 20 public hearing to authorize the sale of up to $62.5 million in bonds over a period of not more than 15 years to cover road maintenance associated with the passage of the road tax.

Fontenot said bonding the money immediately would allow the parish to start repairing and overlaying roads sooner.

“If we wait until we get enough money from just the collections themselves, then it will take a longer time to get started on the roads,” Fontenot said.

If the sale of bonds is approved by the council and state Bond Commission, road work will begin as soon as the council passes a priority list of projects.

Also the council unanimously approved a resolution which creates a free enterprise zone in the areas north of Opelousas.

Bill Rodier, executive director of the St. Landry Economic And Development District, told the council that areas north and northeast of Opelousas are in areas where economic development is needed.

Rodier said the enterprise zones would encourage business growth by giving employers a $2,500 tax credit for each new full-time employee hired.