St. Charles council rejects 2005 budget plan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Staff Reporter

HAHNVILLE – In an effort to trim a $90 million budget, St. Charles Parish councilmen inflated the budget by $2 million, before rejecting their own amended 2005 budget – pushing the fiscal financial plan into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2005.

After discussing the budget at Monday night’s Parish Council meeting, Councilman Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux abruptly called for a vote on the amended budget.

A shocked look came across Faucheux’s face and exclamations of surprise circulated the courtroom when poll results revealed the revised budget was defeated 3-5.

Voting with Faucheux, April Black and Richard “Dickie” Duhe voted yes for the changes. Barry Minnich, Brian Fabre, Lance Marino, Desmond Hilaire and Ganesier “Ram” Ramchandran voted no.

Most of the council exited the room immediately after the vote, making them unavailable for comment.

Marino, chairman of the council, said he voted no in an effort to reverse prior votes he rendered.

“After giving it some consideration, I felt it was not fair to approve certain parish projects while declining others,” said Marino.

The chairman said he was also concerned about money being withdrawn from the general fund to cover expenses in certain areas. He said, “I feel it leaves our reserve fund too low.”

Project appropriations Marino spoke of came when the council approved spending $690,000 on a project spearheaded by Ramchandran to reinforce a canal, which runs behind homes on Ormond Oaks in Destrehan. The measure was passed at the last Parish Council meeting in a 5-4 vote.

During Monday’s Parish Council meeting, the council approved spending $431,000 on a project requested by April Black.

Black’s measure sought to renovate and elevate two St. Rose pump stations. The stations are on Oak Street and Fourth Street.

In an effort to protect the parish bond rate, council members voted Monday to transfer $900,000 from the general fund into the water works account and $370,000 from the general fund into the solid waste account.

Led by Faucheux, the votes were placed to remedy a failing worker works system, which the parish continues to run at a loss.

Director of Finance Lorrie Toups raised the subject of rate increases several times. However, the council chose to ignore her pleas and to instead siphon money from the general fund.

Ramchandran said he voted against the amended budget because he felt the parish government was growing at a rate that was too fast for the parish to afford.

He said, “The council refused to vote no to 4 percent merit raises. This parish has a huge built-in overhead. Top figure heads are earning 30 to 40 percent more than other parish workers are making. The bottom portion which comprises the working force don’t get merit raises while certain individuals receive between $5,000 and $7,000 per year in merits. The cost of government is obscene in St. Charles Parish. The government is top heavy and too fat.”

Ramchandran said he would rather vote for parish projects to prevent flooding than to vote merit increases for the high-earning officials in the parish. Because the council did not vote to dismiss merit raises, Ramchandran said he voted no for the amendment, which sacrificed his flood project but kept expenditures down.

Minnich agreed with Ramchandran that people getting 4 percent raises are not the true “cream-of-the-crop.” He said, “I think the system is broke. We are out-pacing our revenue sources. We provide 4 percent to people who don’t deserve it. Until we fix the system, along with the civil service, I will not vote for 4 percent merit increases.”

Minnich was perhaps the heaviest cost-cutter on the council. Under his direction, the council slashed expense after expense.

Consistently looking forward, he cut across the board – disregarding special exceptions that could prove conflicting.

Minnich repeatedly urged the council to reject special interest pleas and propaganda in order to be successful at slashing expenditures.

The councilman was not swayed by appeals and consistently voted no to measures that would deter from the course of cost cutting.

Minnich voted no to removing money from the general fund, no to 4 percent merit raises and no to adding back costs already removed.