Lafayette council, mayor putting finishing touches to budget

The Lafayette City-Parish Council is moving into the final stage of reviewing next year’s proposed budget with two major amendments still in question.

The council has been going line-by-line through City-Parish President Joey Durel’s proposed budget in a series of hearings over the past month.

The final formal hearing was held late Thursday, and the council is scheduled to meet Sept. 5 in what is being described as “wrap-up” session to tie up any loose ends.

The council has handled the administration’s proposed budget with a light touch but two major changes are on the table, including one that would bump the administration’s proposed 2.5 percent across-the-board employee pay raise up to 3 percent. If approved, that would raise the cost from about $2.8 million to about $3.3 million.

City-parish government’s 2,265 employees have not seen a raise for the past two budget years, and the pay increase is the largest new expenditure in the proposed budget.

The 2.5 percent pay boost has drawn no vocal objections, but a push by Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux to bring the rate up to 3 percent could face opposition.

Councilman Don Bertrand said he fears the budget might not have enough wiggle room to squeeze in another half percent raise for employees.

“I would love to make it 3 percent,” Bertrand said, but added that the higher rate might not be fiscally responsible at this time.

A second proposed budget amendment would allocate $500,000 to hire additional nurses and clerks at the Lafayette Parish Public Health Unit at the Clifton Chenier Center on Willow Street.

City-parish government shares expenses at the clinic with the state, but state funding has fallen off in recent years.

The money the city-parish spends at the health unit comes from a dedicated 0.94-mill property tax that can be used only for expenses related to public clinics.

That tax brings in about $1.7 million a year, which is about $1 million more than city-parish has been paying to help support the clinic.

The surplus has been building up in an account that has grown to about $8 million.

The existing revenue and surplus are more than enough to beef up staffing in the near future, but Durel and some council members have questioned whether local government should take on more of the expenses.

Earlier this year, Durel had proposed suspending collection of the health unit tax because the surplus has grown so large that no new revenue would be needed if spending remains near its current level.

The budget additions for the pay raise and health unit will both need an up and down vote before the council formally adopts the budget.

Final adoption is scheduled for Sept. 12.

The total proposed city-parish budget is about $598 million, and about half of that is for the budgets for the city-owned water, sewer, electric and telecommunications services.