Baker approves deficit budget

The City Council approved a general fund budget Tuesday for the next fiscal year that anticipates spending nearly $1 million more than the city receives in total revenues.

With shortfalls in two sales tax-funded salary accounts for police and firefighters and a fund for accrued vacation and sick pay, the total deficit will be $1.98 million, according to figures for fiscal year 2013-14 presented Tuesday night.

The shortfall will be made up from a surplus balance from previous years that has dwindled from $9.3 million in mid-2009 to $4.3 million in mid-2012 because of deficit spending.

The general fund covers operations of the police, fire and public works departments, general city administration and council expenses.

City Treasurer Monise Scott said the $4.3 million will be reduced by about $2 million in deficit spending in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

At this time next year, the balance in the general fund will be less than $500,000, Scott said.

“That is a dangerous place for us to be in,” she said.

Department heads, Mayor Harold Rideau and council members held several meetings to discuss ways to cut the budget, including a sometimes contentious session for about four hours on Monday.

While many ideas for spending cuts were advanced, the officials were at a loss for ways to increase revenues, except for a “Shop in Baker” campaign.

Rideau submitted a proposed budget in early May based on known cost increases, revenue estimates and requests from department heads, but the proposal called for a $1.82 million deficit from revenues of $6.84 million and spending of $8.66 million.

The budget finally adopted eliminates a plan to give employees 2 percent raises, but firefighters will get the pay increase because state law mandates it, council members said.

Police Chief Mike Knaps said the budget uncertainties have resulted in five employees in his department turning in resignation letters in the last month, and he complained Tuesday that he needs to adjust the pay of six officers because their salaries are not aligned correctly with the salary schedules.

The council refused to adopt a capital improvements budget without discussion, and set additional budget “work sessions” for June 17 and June 20.

Baker resident John Abel criticized the council for “not practicing what you preach” in hiring a Baton Rouge auditing firm for about $15,000 more than what a Baker firm quoted for the job.

“We’ve had that conversation. Thank you,” Councilwoman Joyce Burges told Abel.