Durel pushes for public health tax consolidation in Lafayette _lowres

Joey Durel

Police officers could be in line for their biggest raise in years.

The City-Parish Council on Thursday cobbled together an additional $600,000 to bridge the gap between a pay raise plan from the administration and one pushed by the local police union.

The shuffling of funds for police pay was the only major change the council made to City-Parish President Joey Durel’s proposed budget before voting to adopt it Thursday evening.

Durel had initially set aside about $750,000 for police pay raises, which would have brought starting pay to $2,850 a month.

The police union sought a more robust pay plan with a price tag of $1.4 million to raise starting salaries to $2,916 a month and spread more pay increases up through the ranks — a boost the union argues is needed to make up for years of stagnant pay and to attract and keep good officers.

“We appreciate the council’s effort in reaching our goal. We understand the need and respect the need to stay fiscally responsible,” said Cpl. Dorian Brabham, president of the Police Association of Lafayette.

Even with the money in place for next year’s budget, the revised pay plan is still subject to review by Durel, who said he is concerned that the council tapped the city’s fund balance — savings from prior years — for $285,750 to help fund the union’s proposal.

Durel said he has not decided whether he will support the union’s full pay plan or float an alternative plan that uses less of the fund balance.

Regardless of Durel’s wishes, the council, with enough votes, still could push forward with the union’s plan.

The money for the police union’s pay plan also depends on slicing $168,000 from the $500,000 budgeted for a special police detail to keep tabs on weekend crowds downtown.

City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux argued the money should support the entire department rather than being focused on one small area of the city.

Police Chief Jim Craft said reducing the downtown detail could force him to pull officers from normal patrol duties to respond to Jefferson Street in the event of a major disturbance.

“It’s going to affect our operations, and we are going to have to come up with a contingency plan to address the reduction in funds,” the chief said.

Craft said he supports the police union’s $1.4 million pay plan, but “I just want them to find the money somewhere else.”

Two proposals to grab money from other areas of the budget for police pay both failed.

Councilman William Theriot unsuccessfully sought to cut $670,000 in subsidies for nongovernmental groups, including social service agencies, the Acadiana Arts Council and Festival International, using the money instead for police and fire pay.

The council also shot down Councilman Jared Bellard’s proposal to end a $275,000-a-year GPS program to track city-parish vehicles and to use the money instead for police pay.

Theriot’s and Bellard’s proposals both failed by the same 5-3 vote, with Theriot, Bellard and Councilman Andy Naquin in support.

The cuts were opposed by Boudreaux, Brandon Shelvin, Kevin Naquin, Jay Castille and Keith Patin.

Shelvin on Thursday dropped a handful of potentially controversial budget proposals, including the addition of $20,000 each for himself and Boudreaux to open field offices in their districts and an amendment to cut all money available to Theriot for expenses such as travel, meetings and postage.

Shelvin said he might revisit the field office measure another year.

“I just think we need a little more time to assess it,” he said.

Shelvin declined comment on why he proposed cutting Theriot’s expenses or why he dropped it, but it’s no secret the two council members are sometimes at odds.

The council has reviewed the budget line by line in a series of hearings over the past two months.

The budget, for the fiscal year that begins Nov. 1, totals more than $600 million, but the bulk of that is the city-owned utilities system and restricted tax money the council has little control over.

The council discussions have focused on the roughly $113 million in the city and parish general funds.