Gonzales councilman’s budget move sparks heated debate

A trio of councilmen, led by Gary Lacombe, pushed an amendment Monday to slash nearly $1.25 million from the city’s $8.6 million 2013-14 capital outlay budget, sparking heated disagreements with two other councilmen and Mayor Barney Arceneaux.

The most controversial change was an $80,000 reduction in the city’s contribution to Kidz Kove Discovery Park, a playground dedicated to children with special needs.

The city had agreed to supply $200,000 in infrastructure work to help a private group, which has raised more than $725,000 and purchased equipment for $285,000, finish the park during the next fiscal year.

While the council agreed on the $200,000 figure during its budget hearings last month, Lacombe said Monday he was concerned the city’s fund balance was “going south.” The city was projected to have roughly $4 million remaining in its fund balance.

The city’s fund balance historically comes from the general fund budget, which is separate from the capital outlay budget.

Councilmen Kirk Boudreaux and Kenny Matassa, as well as park project supporters in the audience, were not pleased with the actions of Lacombe and council members Terance Irvin and Tim Vessel.

“I gave the people my word on Kidz Kove; I’m not backing down on that,” Matassa said.

Boudreaux said the council met last month for almost eight hours during two separate budget hearings, and Lacombe should have addressed his concerns then instead of bringing them up at the last minute.

“This is unacceptable,” Boudreaux said. “...This is not how we operate.”

Stacey Bumpus, president of Project Kidz Kove, said she appreciated the efforts of Boudreaux and Matassa, but she feels betrayed by a majority of the council.

“It’s wrong,” she said. “It might not be illegal, but it’s highly unethical.”

Another major change in the capital outlay budget was the removal of a $590,000 firetruck. Of that amount, the council set aside $250,000 in the 2014-15 budget for the firetruck.

The council will vote on the amended Capital Outlay budget’s final adoption in two weeks.

The General Fund budget was adopted Monday at $13.569 million — an increase of about $500,000 from 2012-13.

Lacombe attempted to shave $84,000 out of the proposed General Fund budget, including $25,000 from the Ascension Economic Development Corp., but his amendment came too late.

“Three people have already voted on that motion,” City Attorney Ryland Percy said. “That budget has passed.”