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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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After lengthy debate, council amends 2013 parish budget proposal

After lengthy debate, council amends 2013 parish budget proposal

After nearly four and one half hours of debate, the Lafourche Parish Council at last Tuesday’s regular meeting voted to accept the administration’s funding requests for next year.

The Council added almost $2 million to the proposed 2013 budget, for construction and maintenance projects for various districts in the form of thirty-one amendments.

Immediately, Councilmen Aaron Caillouet and Phillip Gouaux voiced their objections to the way in which expensive projects were being added to an already heavy budget of $61 million.

“I’ve never seen this done before, to this magnitude,” said Caillouet, noting that the traditional way to do this is to talk to the Parish President first, especially for road and drainage improvements.

“We submitted our wants and desires in the $25 million bond requests.  I am gonna vote against most of these,” he said.

Phillip Gouaux, equally against the list of road projects as amendments to the budget, voiced his concern that adding them is a waste of time.

“The proposed budget can be $250 million, but the administration and the parish cannot spend money which is not in hand,” said Gouaux.  Road projects in the form of amendments are ridiculous, he charged.

Two such projects, in Councilman Daniel Lorraine’s district, for drainage improvements along East 86th and in West 111th Streets in the Cut Off/Galliano areas were the main examples of Gouaux’s objection. 

Lorraine insisted on having them as budget items.

“These two drainage projects were started by Rodney (former Councilman Rodney Doucet) five years ago.  They were supposed to have been done.  I want it in the budget where I know it’s gonna be done in 2013,” he stated.

Parish President Charlotte Randolph countered that the Capital budget already includes some $3 million in Road Sales Tax District 2 drainage improvements. 

“These were in the list already,” she noted.

The vote for these amendments was 7-2 in favor, with Gouaux and Caillouet voting nay.

Also under consideration was Councilman Lindel Toups’ amendment to move $400,000 from the $1 million Emergency Fund to a Detention Center Building Fund to “facilitate…architectural design, site selection, appraisal, property acquisition, preliminary site work, etc. as needed to proceed on a new parish jail.”

Gouaux said this was premature, that no plan has been finalized for the size of the jail.

“We don’t even have a study of how many beds we need in the jail.  I agree we need a new jail, but we need someone who has knowledge of how many beds we need first.  Until we have all the facts, we are shooting blindly,” he stated.

Toups, who has put in much time and effort into getting the ball rolling on a jail for the parish, was unsuccessful in the past in hiring an architect because of lack of dedicated funding. “This will help us move forward,” he said.

His amendment passed by vote of 6-2, with Caillouet and Gouaux voting nay, and Councilman Jerry Lafont absent during the vote.

In other amendments, Councilman Jerry Jones was finally successful in passing his request to hire an Internal Auditor Clerk to oversee grants and do work for the Internal Auditor.  The amendment calls for adding $44,000 to the General Fund to cover salary of $35,000 and also $9,000 for benefits for that position.  The vote was 6-3, with Caillouet, Gouaux, and Lafont voting nay.

Several other amendments were pulled from consideration after debate over whether or not it is wise to do capital projects for such things as repairs to pools and parking lots. 

President Randolph noted that in doing so, “you are saying that the parish is going to build this.  It’s our project in their pool.  We would assume some ownership in this that we don’t want.”

In the past, she said, money for such repairs was given to the district or town which owns the structure and that entity would do the repairs.

Monies have been identified, or supplemental appropriations can be used to fund these projects, said Randolph.

In all, eight amendments were pulled by various councilmen, with the assurance of the administration that they would be considered at the first meeting of 2013.

The council also voted in favor of funding the acquisition of land at Fourchon Beach.  An independent auditor having previously valued the land at $270,000, the council voted 7-2 in favor of granting the money to the South Lafourche Beachfront Development District for acquiring the land.

“We have a strategic plan for developing the beach for public access,” said Cullen Curole.  “We have access to Department of Commerce Economic Development Authority grant money for this project.  The issue is ownership.”

According to Curole, the grant is not possible without ownership of the ten miles of beach in question.

Attorney Jay Caillouet, representing the Caillouet Land Company which owns the property, advised the council that the land is not for sale and any attempts to acquire it would bring a legal battle.

Finally, the amendment passed 7-2, with John Arnold and Phillip Gouaux voting nay.