St. John Council seeks employee insurance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council voted Tuesday night to advertise for parish employee insurance, to cut costs in janitorial and grass cutting services and to delay borrowing $900,000 necessary for paying expenditures.

The council unanimously authorized Director of Finance Jeff Clement to advertise for health, dental and life insurance proposals.

Chairman Allen St. Pierre recommended the council post a particular price they are willing to pay for an insurance package.

St. Pierre said, “We could set a specific amount of money and ask ‘What can you give us for that amount of money.'”

Chairman Steve Lee said St. Pierre’s idea would keep the council from receiving an insurance broker’s best offer.

“Let them give us their best proposal, which will include options. We will do a spread sheet and pick what’s best for us,” said Lee.

Lee said this is what the parish has done in the past and it has worked well. He said it would not make sense to deter from a system that has proven itself to be successful.

Lee said the council needed to be fair in soliciting quotations from everyone and that applications should be sought early in the process. He said this would give the council adequate time to review potential insurance plans and to ask companies for specific alterations.

Council members agreed there needed to be a strict adherence to the deadline date, for receiving applications. They also agreed that all negotiations with perspective companies should stop after a given period of time.

In the past, an insurance company could drop their price at the last possible minute and receive the insurance contract. This move proved to be unfair to other companies participating in the bidding process.

In a separate matter, the council voted unanimously to renegotiate grass and janitorial contracts.

Perez Grass Cutting Services, B & D Grass Cutting Services, Inc., Leroy Cox Lawn Care, St. John Grass Cutting, BB’s Janitorial Service and One Stop Janitorial Service will be asked to submit new bids that reflect a 30 percent reduction in cost.

New contracts will be honored through Dec. 31, 2007 and will include a 30-day cancellation clause.

The decision to cut contracts 30 percent was made in December 2004 to balance the 2005 annual budget.

Later in the meeting, Clement asked the council to approve borrowing $900,000 from the State Bond Commission, so the parish could continue operating effectively past August.

Bonding attorney Hugh Martin said he does not prefer the practice of cash flow borrowing. However, he said if the parish did not borrow the money, they would find themselves in a financial situation.

Martin said 2005 ad valorem taxes will not be made available until February 2006 and that the council needs to borrow the money until March 2006.

He said the State Bond Commission will approve the borrowing.

Clement said that because the council did not make recommended cuts when balancing the budget in December, money needed to be borrowed to replenish reserves.

“Our present funds do not allow for excess in the budget,” said Clement. “You can fix this situation in the future. However, you definitely need to borrow the $900,000 now.”

Lee said cash flow borrowing is a common practice and that the council has done it for years.

“We have always had a shortfall. This is nothing new. It wasn’t as painful in the past because we borrowed against ourselves internally. I brought the practice into the system,” said Lee. “Our general fund is under-funded. If we want to pay our bills, we must borrow. This is the only responsible action we can take at this time.”

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said she saw “plenty of money” in the budget before voting against recommended budget cuts in December. However, Tuesday night Hotard displayed great concern while asking, “What do we need to do to get out of the borrowing cycle?”

Councilman Cleveland Farlough remarked the council did not do enough to prioritize spending.

“We just do things,” said Farlough. “We need to learn to live within our means – within our budget. Borrowing is a bad policy. I don’t like this.”

Councilman Lester Rainey told the council pointedly,

(See Council, Page 5A)

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“Administration presented us with a (10-point) plan last March stating what they would like to do. The council chose not to do certain things. Administration let us know we would face these issues again.”

Rainey reminded the council they approved some of the points in the plan furnished by Parish President Nickie Monica and CAO Natalie Robottom but that they did not institute all of the recommendations.

He suggested the council reduce specific line items and that the team continue to work on budgetary measures throughout the entire year.

“We said we would make changes in January, but we have not. We need to address the general fund. We need to make decisions that we have to make. We have to help ourselves. If we don’t, I don’t see us living very much longer,” said Rainey.

Councilman Richard “Dale” Wolfe said the administration did not give the council a budget he could live with.

He frequently criticises administration during council meetings, and verbally attacks them, threatening their jobs and to remove their department heads.

Council Chairman Joel McTopy said he wanted to meet with administration to possibly develop a new 10-point plan.

He said a new plan would include reducing department budgets and selling unnecessary parish land.

“We have properties all over the parish that far exceeds $900,000. I say sell it,” said McTopy.