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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Special council budget meeting doomed from the start

Special council budget meeting doomed from the start

Buster Avera
Contributing writer

The Lafourche Parish Council on Monday failed to vote on outgoing Parish President Charlotte Randolph’s proposed 2016 Operations and Maintenance and Capital budgets, and then scratched its collective “head” over what to do next.

Thank goodness Lafourche Parish has a Home Rule Charter to guide us!

The meeting was called especially to review Randolph’s 2016 spending plan, and to consider several amendments, before adopting next year’s budget.

Her proposed budget for 2016 is valued at $98,507,852 compared to 2015’s amended budget of $115,922,506. In 2014, the audited budget came in at $82,076,473.

Councilmen offered eleven amendments to the 2016 plan, mostly for drainage improvements and other capital projects. They were to be considered on Monday night.

But problems existed from the start of the meeting when four councilmen were absent. Michael Delatte, John Arnold, and Phillip Gouaux were all out of town, and Lindel Toups was ill.

That left only five councilmen to consider agenda items. A minimum of five (5) votes are needed to pass any measure.

On the first amendment, Lindel Toups’ proposed addition of $600,000 to replace undersized culverts and improve drainage in Raceland, Councilman Aaron Caillouet voted nay, and the amendment failed 4-1 for lack of a voting member majority.

Caillouet said: “I’m voting against all of the amendments to the budget unless someone can prove to me that it has to be done before January 1.”

According to Caillouet, the council had decided earlier in the year to delay any use of any fund money until the new council took office.

“I want the new council to vote on it,” he stated.

A sudden ensuing shouting match between Caillouet and Councilman Daniel Lorraine was quelled by Chairman Jerry Lafont.

During discussion on the second amendment, Councilman Jerry Jones’ proposal to move $500,000 of BP fine money into a culvert project in his district, Lafont agreed with Caillouet.

“We all had a general discussion at one of the meetings that we wouldn’t mess with the BP fund until the new council got in here and I’m gonna stick to that also. I’ll have to vote no,” he said.

The BP fund holds $6.8 million in fine money recently paid to Lafourche Parish from penalties charged to British Petroleum as a result of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

At this point, Councilman Joe Fertitta got up from his chair and left the meeting, saying that without 5 votes, “we were wasting our time; not helping the parish.”

In the confusion that followed, the Council Clerk stated that she thought failing to consider Monday night’s agenda would force the parish to revert back to the 2015 budget.

For lack of a quorum, Lafont adjourned the meeting and laughingly called for a District Attorney’s opinion.
Afterward, President Randolph pointed out the section of the Home Rule Charter which deals with adopting the budget.

Lafont read that part of the Charter to those still in attendance, clarifying that without a council vote, the 2016 budget is adopted anyway.

“If the Council fails to timely enact a budget, it shall be finally adopted as submitted by the President,” he quoted.
Daniel Lorraine was somewhat disappointed in Caillouet’s move. (He too had offered an amendment to the budget which failed to be considered because of the meeting’s abrupt ending.)

“Aaron’s probably still broken-hearted from losing the election,” smiled Lorraine. Then, more seriously: “I’ve been knowing him all my life; I can’t believe he did something like that.”

When Jerry Jones was asked if he was disappointed in the way his proposals were received, he said: “No. I mean, it was legal.”