OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to introduce a $1.2 million 2013 operating budget for the parishwide Community Action Agency.
Although parish government oversees the operation of the CAA, Parish President Bill Fontenot said this is the first time the agency’s budget has been presented to the council for adoption.
Last year, Fontenot removed longtime CAA Director Donald Robinson and requested an independent audit of the agency after the council was notified by state officials that no funding was available for several federally funded programs to assist indigent residents.
An audit report earlier this year indicated that funds for eight CAA programs funded by state and federal governments showed a deficit fund balance of $593,542 as of July 31, 2012.
Those programs include home weatherization assistance, United Way Medical Assistance, emergency food and shelter, community block grant funding, Medicaid, food for seniors and family independence.
Auditors examining the CAA’s financial statements found “significant deficiencies” and six instances of “fiscal noncompliance,” according to the report.
The areas of deficiencies and noncompliance that occurred while Robinson was director include inadequate documentation of federal grant expenditures, establishing loans to cover the expenses of some programs and pay increases granted to workers without notification of the CAA board of directors.
Also, failure to adopt a budget for the 2012 fiscal year, failure to prepare accurate financial statements for the CAA’s board and allowing temporarily laid off workers to collect unemployment benefits while they continued to work.
The council voted last year to take Fontenot to state court over the issue of whether the council or parish president has authority to remove a CAA director.
Following a one-day trial, a state judge ruled in Fontenot’s favor, stating the parish president has the power to make decisions concerning the agency’s operation.
Council members Pam Gautreau and Timothy LeJeune questioned Fontenot on Wednesday night about salary costs for the new staff hired by parish government to run the CAA.
Gautreau said the budget presented by Fontenot shows $992,000 in expenditures for employees’ salaries, while the entire proposed budget shows $1.2 million in revenues.
“There’s $300,000 in the budget for (employee) benefits and $48,000 for office expenses. How are we providing services for the poor of this parish when we are spending that much for salaries and benefits?” Gautreau asked.
Funding for CAA programs are usually designed for “zero-sum funding,” which means, he said, they do not have to show surpluses at the end of fiscal years.
“We have actually reduced the amount of staff,” Fontenot said. “We have 70 volunteer workers who receive stipends of $3 per hour each and overall there are 24 full-time employees to administer the programs.”
The budget presented to the council on Wednesday night was the first of its kind, Fontenot said, adding he is trying to reorganize CAA’s financial procedures.
“Before, you had non-accountability with the program,” Fontenot told council members. “After the audit, we understand where we are and where we have to go from here.”