LAFAYETTE — The proposed city-parish government budget for next fiscal year gives a boost in starting pay to firefighters and police officers and a 2 percent raise for all other employees.
The pay raises, which come with a price tag of about $2.5 million, are the most notable additions to the proposed budget introduced Thursday by City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration.
The City-Parish Council will begin picking through the document line by line in a series of public hearings scheduled to start Tuesday.
The proposed budget totals $604.5 million, but the bulk of that is the city-owned utilities system and restricted tax money the council has little control over.
What’s up for discussion over the next few weeks is the roughly $113 million in the city and parish general funds.
There are few major changes, with the exception of the pay increases.
Pay for firefighters and police officers has lagged in recent years, and Durel said his goal is to lift starting salaries to the fourth-highest in the state.
“This will get us there,” he told council members when presenting the proposed budget Thursday evening.
Starting pay for police officers would go from $2,710 a month to $2,850 a month, with a combined budget impact of $782,000 annually when accounting for raises up through the ranks.
Firefighter starting pay would rise from $2,114 a month to $2,500 a month, costing about $1.4 million annually departmentwide.
Fire Chief Robert Benoit and Police Chief Jim Craft have been advocating for better pay in recent months, both complaining it’s difficult to attract new recruits and even more difficult to keep them from being lured away by better salaries elsewhere, including smaller cities in the area where starting pay is higher and in the booming oil patch.
Stagnant pay at the police department became an issue earlier this year when the local police union backed state legislation to mandate a 2 percent annual raise for Lafayette officers.
The legislation, which would have applied only when city sales tax collections hit certain benchmarks, was ultimately withdrawn after the administration pledged to take a hard look at boosting pay in next year’s budget.
The proposed budget also sets aside about $300 million for a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase for other city-parish employees.
City-parish government is one of the top five employers in the parish, with a combined workforce of 2,271, including police officers and firefighters.
The pay raises come as healthy property tax and sales tax collections have buoyed city-parish coffers, and the current situation marks a dramatic turnaround from just a few years ago during the national economic downturn.
City-parish government had been spending more money than it was taking in, repeatedly dipping into prior years’ savings to balance the budget.
In 2011, city-parish government opted against filling 84 vacant positions, permanently striking them from the budget to save money.
Despite the rosier economic outlook this year, many of those positions have not been put back in the budget, including about 20 jobs at the police department and 57 in public works, Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said.
And while projected revenues for the “city” side of city-parish government appear strong, the budget for road and drainage work in the unincorporated areas of the parish is anemic.
Property tax revenues in areas outside of the city are not keeping pace with the needs for roads, ditches and other infrastructure.
Projects already on the books are expected to be completed, but budget projections for the coming years indicate that money for new projects will start drying up.
“I think the consequences are going to be dire for the unincorporated areas of the parish,” Durel said.
City-parish government’s budget year begins. Nov. 1.
The council is scheduled to vote Sept. 11 on final adoption of the budget.
For a complete scheduled to the times and location of city-parish budget hearings, visit www.lafayettela.gov/Council/SiteAssets/files/Budget _Briefing_Schedule.pdf.