OPELOUSAS — The Board of Aldermen failed to approve a general fund budget Tuesday for the fiscal year starting Sept. 1 after a lengthy discussion about existing and future municipal finances.

That action was preceded by the approval of an amended 2010-11 budget, which included a general fund deficit of $711,710.

The board saw a tie vote when it tried to approve the 2011-12 budget, meaning the motion was defeated.

Aldermen Julius Alsandor, Louis Butler Jr. and Jacqueline Martin voted for approving the budget.

Aldermen Joe Charles, Blair Briggs and Reginald Tatum voted against approving it.

The board’s failure to approve the budget means the city will operate on the 2010-2011 budget for the next six months, Tatum said.

According to the budget presented at Tuesday’s meeting, the city will begin the new fiscal year with a $792 fund balance.

City Clerk Karen Frank said about $900,000 of a $1.2 million signing fee the city received from a 10-year contract agreement with Cleco Power will allow the city to pay off the projected deficit in the 2010-2011 amended budget.

Frank said she is projecting to end the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $266,000 surplus, about $140,000 more than she originally projected.

Mayor Donald Cravins Sr. said he won’t describe the city’s financial situation as being dire.

“I will say that we have to continue to operate cautiously. A lot of our (budget) problems have to do with declines in sales taxes,” he said.

Cravins said for at least the past 10 years, the city has used sales tax revenue to offset deficits in the Water and Sewer Department.

The deficits in that department are usually about $600,000 annually, Cravins said.

He said the city is taking steps to increase water and sewer rates in order to increase revenue in that department.

Cravins said the city’s general fund deficit is nothing new.

“We’ve finished in the red for about the last 10 years, but the reserves are what took care of that,” Cravins said.

There are no plans to lay off any workers because of budget problems, Cravins said.

Briggs said that might be wishful thinking because the city’s payroll is its largest expenditure.

“That’s what eats up this budget. To me layoffs are inevitable,” Briggs said.

Continuing to operate with the existing number of employees, Briggs said, isn’t fair to residents who are seeing infrastructure improvements curtailed.