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Sunday, July 14, 2019

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Council attempts overhaul of proposed 2018 budget

Council attempts overhaul of proposed 2018 budget

The Lafourche Parish Council did nearly the impossible this week, proposing and passing more than 250 amendments to the Parish Operations and Maintenance Budget and Capital Budget for 2018.

They did so in two grueling sessions totaling about 6 hours on Monday and Tuesday nights, prior to the November 28 regular meeting agenda in which the budget was considered for council ratification.

The amendments were an attempt to whittle nearly $1.6 million from Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle’s proposed 2018 budget.

Most of the targeted line items saw increases over last year’s budget, despite claims by parish administration that tax collection and other forms of parish income continue to diminish.

While Cantrelle’s proposed budget would fund the looming garbage collection debt by using $2.5 million from the BP Fund, the council says it found a more fiscally responsible way to pay the future debt by using the amendments to move many line item increases into the Solid Waste Fund.

Although some amendments were for as little as $35, many of the moves were for much more substantial amounts.

One amendment de-obligated over $96,000 for “Data and Telephone Network Upgrade” and put the money into Solid Waste.

Another amendment which also got council approval moved $250,000 from a Capital Project to fund “Pump Station Cameras” into Solid Waste.

“These are all increases over 2016 (last year’s budget). The Parish President says we don’t have any money,” said Council Chairman Cory Perrillioux.

Instead of increasing the budget with what he calls “frivolous spending” in areas such as some capital projects, lodging, mileage, advertising, postage, rentals, supplies, vehicles and dues in several departments, Perrillioux said that money should go to where it is desperately needed.

“It may look like we’re nitpicking, but we’re doing the work that the Parish President should have done,” he said.

Councilman Daniel Lorraine, who voted “no” on all amendments which moved any money into Solid Waste, said he could not support an unbalanced budget.

“Tonight, ya’ll put some money in Solid Waste. Is it a balanced budget? Maybe, but I doubt it. You can’t turn in an unbalanced budget,” he said.

Lorraine offered suggestions, like going back to the voters to approve a sales tax increase, which is within the tax call for Solid Waste.

“You still have the 3/10ths of a penny, but you have to go to the state legislature to do that. Or you can put in a service charge. But in both you have to go to the voters,” said Lorraine, referring to the 1986 tax call which provides a 1-cent sales tax for Solid Waste collection, reduced to 7/10ths of a penny in 1996.

Internal Auditor Reggie Bagala said the amendments actually total about $1.35 million and that they were necessary to offset next year’s $2.5 million shortfall in projected ad valorem tax collections.

“It’s third grade economics. When your revenue goes down, your spending goes down. The lines shouldn’t cross,” said Bagala.