Ricks asks Attorney General to weigh in on Livingston budget battle

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on his ongoing feud with the Parish Council over the parish’s 2014 budget.

At issue is whether the council’s budget was legal or validly adopted on Dec. 5 and, if not, whether the parish’s Home Rule Charter or state law governs how officials must proceed.

Ricks vetoed the council’s budget Dec. 19, after District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said it violated state law and the parish’s Home Rule Charter.

Perrilloux said the council’s budget illegally omitted tax revenue dedicated to the parish’s road overlay program, fees for the parish legal adviser and grant funds for ongoing projects.

The council overrode Ricks’ veto in a 6-3 vote on Jan. 9, but Perrilloux has said an override could not revive the council’s budget because it was invalid when adopted.

Ricks instead has proceeded under his own proposed 2014 budget, citing a charter provision that says if the council fails to adopt a budget by the end of the year, the president’s proposed budget is considered adopted.

Council Chairman Ricky Goff has said the council’s budget was legal, but even if it weren’t, the parish should follow the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act and restrict itself to 50 percent of its 2013 budget until a new compromise budget for 2014 can be adopted.

In a Feb. 4 letter on Ricks’ behalf, Perrilloux asked the Attorney General’s Office to settle the matter by determining whether the council’s budget was legal or valid and, if not, which set of laws governs.

“There is some urgency in connection with this request,” Perrilloux wrote, noting that Ricks wants to move forward with a budget but would like guidance from the attorney general first.

With his request, Perrilloux submitted copies of the president’s and council’s budgets, the ordinance enacting the council budget, Perrilloux’s written legal opinion and four prior attorney general opinions, Ricks’ veto letter, the relevant charter provisions and a timeline of events.

Goff said Thursday the request for an opinion, although “flabbergasting,” does not signal an end to his negotiations with the parish president for a compromise budget.

“It just means they have not made a decision yet on their end on what they’re going to do,” Goff said. “I thought the conversations back and forth with the Legislative Auditor’s Office would have been sufficient to show that it doesn’t all line up and we just need to reintroduce a new budget and move forward, but this is what they chose to do.”

Goff said the ability to resolve the issue remains in Ricks’ hands.

“The problem is, when the AG opinion comes back and says, for example, the council budget stands, will that be good enough for Layton or will he want to challenge it?”