Port Allen council set to tackle budget again

The City Council finally could have a definitive spending plan in place this week for the remaining portion of its 2013-14 fiscal year.

City leaders said Monday they feel the council’s second attempt at adopting a 2013-14 budget will be successful when the council holds a budget hearing Wednesday.

The council likely wil entertain a vote on the approximately $7 million spending plan, which was presented to the council on Dec. 23.

“With its introduction being unanimous, it leads me to believe we’ll be able to get it done,” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said.

“I can’t imagine anyone being against the budget. It’s just giving everybody what they wanted,” said Councilman Garry Hubble, who also chairs the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee. “You’d have to want the city to go down the tubes not to agree with it.”

The council is more than six months late adopting a 2013-14 budget.

It missed its June 30 deadline because of the contentious battles a majority of the council had with former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter.

The inability of Slaughter and the council to compromise on a spending plan forced the city to limp through the first half of the 2013-14 budget year operating on 50 percent of the revenue declared in its 2012-13 budget.

Slaughter was recalled from office on Nov. 16 after serving as mayor for only 11 months. Vetoing a 2013-14 budget a majority of the City Council had adopted in October was one of her final actions before leaving office.

Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain said Monday the proposed spending plan she presented last month largely mirrored the budget Slaughter vetoed, minus capital outlay expenditures.

“I just gave them an operations budget, a plan to pay salaries with, keep the lights on, put gas in vehicles. One that allows us to function and provide services to the citizens,” she said.

On Wednesday, McCain said, she will present city leaders with an itemized list of capital expenditures to be included in her original budget proposal for the council’s consideration.

The capital outlay list was culled from wants and needs council members and city leaders expressed during meetings with her and interim mayor Lynn Robertson, she said.

McCain on Monday did not have a total figure for the proposed expenditures but said they include about $375,000 worth of road projects, more than $180,000 toward the purchase of vehicles for the city’s Police Department and funds set aside for a series of community development projects sought by council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown.

The proposed budget includes pay increases for city employees and sets the salary for the city’s next mayor at $84,960 annually.

The mayor’s salary was another controversial issue that peppered Slaughter’s administration after several council members sued her for improperly raising it after the council reduced it to $60,000 a year before Slaughter took office. But a judge ruled that the council improperly lowered the salary.

The proposed 2013-14 budget includes a stipulation mandating council approval for any budget amendments regarding capital outlay expenditures exceeding $2,000.

“Some people think this is an attempt by the council to control everything, but that’s not it at all,” Hubble said. “We’re trying to make things transparent for taxpayers because no one sits down and reads an entire budget. It’s prudent on our part to put it out there for the public to digest to see what their money is being spent on.”