Parish Council approves budget

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 7, 2003


LAPLACE – Despite some concerns about the reduction of funds budgeted to parish programs, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council recently voted unanimously (with one absent during the vote) to approve the 2003 budget.

Just days before the start of the New Year, the Council agreed to accept the terms of the budget if some changes were made to the public works budget. Under the administration’s original plan, chemical spraying and the Inmate Work Program, both listed in the Public Works budget, would see a decrease in budgeted funds.

Chemical spraying would have dropped from a budgeted $150,000 in 2002 to zero in 2003 under the original plan. The Inmate Work Program would have received $75,000, which represented $25,000 less than last year’s funds.

“Last year there was $150,000 in the budget for chemical spraying,” Councilman Jobe Boucvalt said. “What they did this year was take it totally out.”

At the administration’s request, the council started budgeting for chemical spraying last year. While still a relatively new cost in terms of parish budgeting, the program, Boucvalt said, has served an important function in the community.

“This is a good program for my district,” Boucvalt said. “It is too good of a program to start and then quit. Spraying kills weeds and lilies. It’s more expensive to bring in the equipment to cut the lilies out.”

The program was implemented to aid cleaning of ditches and drainage canals within the parish.

According to administration officials, in 2002 the Inmate Work Program was funded at 125 percent of what the sheriff requested.

The cut in its funds this year would put it back to what the program originally should have been budgeted at.

“It is a very good program,” Boucvalt said. “I know we need to cut the budget – but I don’t think we should cut this one.”

The funding for the Inmate Work Program pays the salaries of guards and the cost of equipment.

“From the very beginning, this program has run well,” Councilman Allen St. Pierre told the Finance Committee members. “We added some more special projects.

“When you put all this together, it takes more equipment.”

Other council members warned that more money in the budget means a greater expectation by the council and the general public that services will be rendered more frequently.

But adding monies to programs in the budget means making additional cuts to balance the financial plans. In this case, council members recommended reducing the amount of funds budgeted for employee benefits. That does not mean, however, that employees will actually see a decrease in their benefits.

“We did not cut it,” Boucvalt said. “If you look at 2002, the budget was $600,000 for employee benefits. All that we recommended was just to put employee benefits back at $600,000.”

In the original 2003 budget, employee benefits rose from $600,000 in 2002 to $750,000 in 2003.

Even that change, Boucvalt said, is not necessarily permanent. The cut was made to create a balanced budget before the start of the new year.

The administration officials can review the accepted budget, find somewhere more appropriate to cut and have the budget amended.

“It is their budget,” Boucvalt said. “I want them to look at it and determine where is a good place to cut.”

The budget had to be approved by the council before the first of the year. If the council members had not approved the budget with the changes on Monday, the original budget would have been implemented.

“We do amend these budgets time and time and time again throughout the year,” Councilman Steve Lee said. “It is a snapshot of where we are going.”

It is not an exact figure of how much each department will spend, he said.

Council members were also concerned about funds budgeted for water.

According to Boucvalt, the water budget is not much different from last year’s budget, despite a water contaminant violation in 2002 and long-term plans for water system renovations and a new water plant.

Boucvalt asked that chemical spraying be put back into the budget and that the Inmate Work Program be brought back up to $100,000.

No changes were made to budgeted funds for water at this time.

The council voted to accept the budget with those changes and thanked the administration for the work it put into creating a balanced budget.