Despite raises, St. John budget approved

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 29, 2012

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish council members adopted the 2013 budget Thursday evening only days before the Dec. 31 deadline but not before a 90-minute discussion appeared to turn into a summit on class warfare among employees.

At issue was Parish President Natalie Robottom’s proposed budget that called for a 5 percent raise for her administrative staff, which consists of two assistants and 13 directors. The combined dollar figure to grant those staff members the raise came to approximately $40,000.

For the rest of the parish staff that are covered under civil service, approximately 210 employees, a minimum of a 3.5 percent annual raise is guaranteed and potentially another1.5 percent based on class level. In the past several years council members have given all civil service workers a 5 percent raise, and Robottom, in her first budget since being elected in a regular election to the parish’s top spot, followed suit.

The combined total for raises for the civil service workers is $365,000, according to Robottom.

But some council members still objected to the parish president rewarding her non-civil service staff with raises. At one point an exasperated Robottom told council members they were debating a $40,000 expenditure in a $56 million budget.

Salaries make up 22.4 percent of the budget, checking in at $12.6 million, categorically the highest parish expense.

She said the money that would be saved by denying the raises to her staff is miniscule compared to the bigger picture.

“Denying those raises will not help the budget,” she said.

But some council members implied the salary issue was management against the working man, as described by Councilman Marvin Perrilloux.

“I’m not saying (administrative staff) is upper class, but (with civil service workers) we’re talking about people in the field,” he said.

During the lengthy discussion Robottom told council members they were “pitting civil service workers against the administration staff.”

Councilman Larry Snyder said his issue was based strictly on money, stating that the funds saved by denying the raises could be used elsewhere.

“We don’t have the money to do that, that seems to be the song (of parish officials),” Snyder said, adding he believes most of the civil service workers deserve higher pay.

“We have needs in this parish that are pressing,” he said. “Can we give something else to the administration people? Bonuses (which state law prohibits)? There must be another way of rewarding (Robottom’s staff).”

He also expressed concern that in the next several years the parish would not be able to pay continued 5 percent raises and “pay the water bill.”

Snyder said the civil service workers are the “people who voted for us. We have to look out for them.”

Council Chairman Lucien Gauff III suggested one way to control salary costs is to have employees pay a portion of their healthcare costs. Currently, the parish picks up the tab for single and family health care at a tab of up to $1,400 per employee.

Robottom said that agreement was reached with employees several years ago in lieu of raises but once the raises were granted the health care benefit continued.

“Where I work insurance is not paid for 100 percent,” Gauff said. “It is something that needs to be looked at.”

District 2 Councilman Ranney Wilson, who had previously served as District 4 councilman from 1984-1992 and 1996-2004, said in the past not all civil service workers received 5 percent annual raises.

Robottom explained that council members have been awarding all civil service workers 5 percent raises since 2004.

He also protested what he believes was an excessive amount of overtime paid in 2012, telling the president it was her staff’s responsibility to control workers’ hours.

“You are not doing your job,” he told Robottom.

Robottom explained that nearly $200,000 of overtime, which was the overwhelming majority of the extra pay, was paid in the two months following Isaac. She said overtime has dramatically decreased but remains because of the continued recovery effort.

“We are not dealing with the storm,” Wilson said, adding that every employee should be proactive in improving the parish, such as writing up work orders to fix potholes they might see “instead of sitting back and doing nothing.”

He also made a motion to strike the raises for Robottom’s staff from the budget but it died for lack of a second.

Robottom said just having the discussion is a “slap in the face” after several workshops were held with council members explaining the budget.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said.

Ultimately, the budget was approved 7-0, with Lennix Medere abstaining and Cheryl Millet absent.

Overall, in the general fund, which is the parish’s operating account, expenditures are projected to be $704,000 over revenue, but funding from other sources, including transfers, should cover the gap.

Actual expenses, excluding interfund transfers, are projected to be $56.7 million for 2013, a 1.9 percent increase from 2012.

Revenue for the general fund is projected at approximately $56 million, a 1.5 percent increase, with the ad valorem taxes, sales and uses tax and services fees totaling a combined $49.9 million, or 89 percent of the expected income

 NEW REGISTRAR OF VOTERS – Rita Jarrow was announced by Councilman Art Smith as the new registrar of voters, taking over for the retiring Betty Madere.

Jarrow has been with the office for 33 years. In a brief statement, Jarrow said she will continue to bring “respect and integrity” to the office.

Madere retired after 38 years on the job.

“I’ve worked with many administrations and always got along well,” she said. “I’ve had no problem with any council members. I’ve seen many come and go.”

Look for the Jan. 2, edition of L’Observateur for more on Madere and the nearly four decades she spent as parish registrar.