St. John Council gets look at budget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom is seeking a 5 percent raise for herself and for employees in the 2014 budget proposal she submitted to the parish council Tuesday night.
Robottom is asking council members to approve an increase from the current $143,398 salary to $150,780 for 2014. She also receives an annual car allowance of $9,600.
An ordinance adopted by the council in 2012 mandates that the council must approve any increase of the president’s salary separately. That ordinance eliminated an automatic pay raise clause that was included in a 2008 ordinance raising then–Parish President Bill Hubbard’s salary from $81,300 to $123,300.
Additionally, the council must vote separately on an increase in the president’s salary and it must be approved by a two-thirds vote.
“It is budget time, which is the appropriate time to introduce salary increases that affect the budget,” Robottom said via an email request from L’Observateur. “The parish president’s salary has not been increased in three years.”
Robottom’s salary was increased from $139,000 in 2011 to $143,398 in 2012.
The charter mandates a parish president can only receive a raise once every two years and once each term of office.
Although Robottom traditionally does not reveal individual salaries in her budget, she may be in violation of an ordinance recently adopted by the council. That ordinance, which was approved in September, calls for Robottom to submit a separate list of raises for each non-classified employee when she submits the budget rather than her previous policy of presenting the combined salary expense.
She said that she is following the procedure as outlined in the Home Rule Charter regarding the submission of the budget.
“(The council) can amend the budget prior to adoption,” Robottom said. “I will not comment for the council.”
She added, however, meetings are being scheduled with council members to address questions of concerns and provide additional information
She also said the 5 percent increase for all employees has been standard in every parish budget since 2005. .
Overall, the president is estimating revenue of $4,583,958 in the general fund, essentially the parish’s operating fund, with expenses listed at $8,321,426, leaving a shortage of $3,757,470. That balance, however, will be covered by an additional $600,00 in various fees and transfers from other departments, including a $2.2 million transfer from economic development, which will create a $39,000 surplus  and raise the ending balance in the general fund to $2,301,870.
She noted the parish is receiving $32 million in CDBG grants, $17 million in FEMA funds, $11.9 million in hazard mitigation funds, $1 million to help operate the Reserve-Edgard ferry, and $2.6 million in Severe and Repetitive Loss funds.
“The budget is in excellent condition as demonstrated by annual audit results and awards for excellence in accounting practices,” Robottom said. “As debt and expenditures continue to decrease and revenues increase, the parish is on sound financial footing.
“Establishing dedicated funds for problem budgets and establishing competitive procurement practices will only improve the financial condition in future years.”