Gonzales officials try to finalize 2013-14 budget

City officials still have tough decisions to make within the next few weeks before they finalize the city’s 2013-14 budget.

Several key issues stood out during a budget hearing between administration officials and City Council members Tuesday morning. The city’s fiscal year begins June 1 and a budget must be approved before then or the city will enter 2013-14 with only half of its existing budget.

Some of the major issues discussed Tuesday included a $200,000 expenditure at Kidz Kove Discovery Park, capital expenses in the police and fire department budgets, and the city’s allocation to the Ascension Economic Development Corp.

The council agreed to back $200,000 in city expenses for work at the park. The private group pushing for the park for special-needs children has raised more than $700,000 and purchased playground equipment for $285,000, and asked the council in February for money to help make the dream a reality.

“Let’s get this ball rolling,” Councilman Kirk Boudreaux said.

Fire Chief Tracey Normand received approval to purchase a $600,000 fire engine to replace an engine that is nearly 30 years old, but he also was asked to trim about $100,000 from his capital outlay expenses. Police Chief Sherman Jackson, meanwhile, was denied his request for a new truck for carrying barricades during parades and during severe weather.

Councilman Tim Vessel requested the city slash its AEDC funding from $100,000 to $25,000 — the same level of funding given to the agency prior to Arceneaux taking office in 2009. No decision was made on AEDC’s funding.

“I think right now they’ve proven to be a very important asset for the city,” Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.

In their annual budget address, Arceneaux and City Clerk/Finance Director Clay Stafford set a proposed General Fund budget of $13.569 million, an increase of more than $500,000 from the 2012-13 adopted budget.

A year after transferring $3.5 million to the Capital Outlay and Utility funds, the 2013-14 proposed budget calls for a $6 million transfer for capital projects. The proposed Capital Outlay budget calls for more than $8.6 million in spending, with the bulk of that money going to road, wastewater and water projects.

At the end of this fiscal year, the city is expected to have a fund balance of nearly $10 million. However, that could dip below $4 million at the end of 2013-14 if there is no surplus at the end of the year.

“We had a $29 million fund balance and now it’s $9 (million),” Stafford said, adding city officials would like to keep the fund balance equal to at least half of the city’s annual budget.