Gonzales mayor vetoes budget for a second time

Mayor Barney Arceneaux on Tuesday vetoed for a second time the city’s general fund and capital outlay budgets for the new fiscal year, setting up another possible showdown between the mayor and the City Council majority over funding priorities.

In two required veto messages, Arceneaux says he rejected the budgets because funding for the Ascension Economic Development Corp. and police capital outlay were unnecessarily trimmed after other cuts to the two budgets that pay for operations and public works in Ascension Parish’s largest city.

“In light of the fact that we have already cut well over $1,000,000 from other capital outlay items, there is absolutely no reason to cut further in the area of public safety, an area that is crucial and so important to our city and its citizens,” Arceneaux, a former Gonzales chief of police, wrote in his veto message.

The economic development corporation is a not-for-profit funded by the city, parish government, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and others. Arceneaux said the general fund budget he vetoed would have cut money for AEDC from the $75,000 that he had proposed to $50,000.

“This reduction will detrimentally affect the operations of an entity whose work has proven to be of great benefit to the city of Gonzales in both attraction and retention of vital businesses,” the mayor wrote in a separate veto message.

The mayor has called for possible council override votes on both budgets at the Aug. 11 council meeting, but to be successful, the five-member council needs four votes.

Three councilmen — Gary Lacombe, Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin — have implemented cuts and inserted amendments with a solid 3-2 council majority but have done so with little to no explanation of their rationale, prompting widespread controversy and Arceneaux’s opposition.

The mayor vetoed earlier versions of the budgets on May 21 that included larger cuts to the AEDC and the Police Department, but the council did not choose to vote on an override of either budget veto then.

Reviewing reworked budgets from Arceneaux, the council majority came back with smaller cuts to the department and the economic development group, but those cuts also drew concerns from city officials along with predictions of another veto.

The first vetoed capital outlay budget also had called for setting aside $800,000 for the study of a service road along the east side of Interstate 10 between La. 30 and La. 44. The council majority had originally called for the various cuts in order to pay for the study.

But after Arceneaux’s first veto and amid lingering questions about whether the proposed road the study would examine would benefit land owned by Councilman Irvin’s now deceased father, the council majority dropped that concept from the second version of the capital outlay budget but still pressed for cuts, though somewhat less severe ones.

Councilman Kirk Boudreaux said Tuesday he fully supports Arceneaux’s vetoes.

“I support him 100 percent. I think he is doing a great job. The police need the funding. We’re talking about public safety,” Boudreaux said, adding AEDC is also worthy of more money in light of its role in drawing businesses.

The full Police Department funding that the administration had proposed — the department was cut by about $110,000 in the latest vetoed budget — is needed for nine new police cars, Boudreaux said. Police Chief Sherman Jackson must periodically replace his fleet.

“That’s all he is trying to do is upgrade his equipment, you know I mean?” Boudreaux said.

At the time the council was working out a second version of the capital outlay budget, Lacombe said the police cuts would leave the department with $327,555 in capital outlay dollars, which is the average of the last five years of police capital expenses.

Arceneaux has said that relying on 50 percent of last year’s funding would carry city operations for about five months into the fiscal year. The 2014-15 fiscal year began June 1.

Arceneaux declined further comment Tuesday evening.

Councilmen Irvin, Lacombe and Kenny Matassa did not return messages for comment Tuesday evening.

Vessel declined comment Tuesday, citing disagreement with The Advocate’s coverage.

“I don’t give a comment to The Advocate at this point and time because y’all don’t print the story straight, OK?” Vessel said.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.