LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette City-Parish Council has some big-ticket budget disputes to hash out at a Thursday meeting, as well as a few squabbles over expenses for individual council members.
The most substantial proposed changes to City-Parish President Joey Durel’s budget are tied to efforts by the council to find more money for better police pay.
The administration’s proposed budget sets aside $782,000 for police pay raises, which would bring starting pay to $2,850 a month, but the police union is pushing for a $1.4 million pay plan to boost starting salaries to $2,916 a month and spread more pay increases up through the ranks.
The council on Thursday will consider three big shifts in funds that, if approved, would bridge the gap between the two pay plans, but all three cuts will likely face opposition from the administration, a split council or both.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux has proposed partially funding a bigger pay raise for police by ending the roughly $500,000 in overtime money for a special police detail to keep tabs on weekend crowds downtown, arguing the money should support the entire department rather than being focused on one small area of the city.
Police Chief Jim Craft said at a committee meeting Wednesday that he believes the budget for the downtown detail could be trimmed but that a beefed-up presence is needed on weekends until a better solution is found to deal with crime problems linked to big crowds frequenting downtown bars.
Boudreaux said he is open to compromise but feels at least some money can be shifted from the costly downtown detail to help boost police pay overall.
“Will I fully zero it out? Probably not,” he said.
Councilman William Theriot has proposed killing about $670,000 in the budget for subsidies for nongovernmental groups, including social service agencies, the Acadiana Arts Council and Festival International, using the money instead for salaries in the police and fire departments.
“It’s money for government that should be used for government,” Theriot said.
Theriot and others have routinely tried to cut subsidies for arts and social service groups in recent years, but the majority of the council has voted to keep the funding in place.
In a third proposed cut aimed at finding money for the police union’s pay plan, Councilman Jared Bellard wants to grab $275,000 now used for a GPS program to track city-parish vehicles.
Durel has said the tracking program aims to reduce fuel costs and increase productivity by enabling supervisors to better monitor city-parish employees.
“I think it (the money) would benefit the Police Department more than tracking down equipment,” said Bellard, who has tried unsuccessfully before to shift money from the vehicle tracking program to cover public safety expenses.
The proposals by Boudreaux, Theriot and Bellard are the three biggest proposed budget amendments still in dispute, but a few proposed adjustments to council members’ expense accounts might also generate lively debate, including a proposal by Councilman Brandon Shelvin to add $20,000 each for himself and Boudreaux to open field offices in their districts.
Shelvin said the offices are needed because many of his constituents either don’t have transportation to get to city hall or might be wary of coming to such a formal government office.
The $20,000 would cover lease payments and office expenses, and Shelvin said the preliminary plan is to staff the offices with student interns from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Councilmen Bellard, Theriot and Andy Naquin have gone on record opposing Shelvin’s plan.
“The additional amounts of money needed to open field offices at this time, in my opinion, are not warranted,” Theriot said.
Theriot is also the subject of a proposed budget amendment by Shelvin that would cut all money available to Theriot for expenses such as travel, meetings and postage.
Shelvin declined comment Wednesday on why he targeted Theriot for the cut, but the two councilmen don’t always see eye-to-eye on issues.
Theriot said only that it “will be interesting to see what the council does.”
The council has been working through Durel’s proposed budget in a series of hearings over the past two months.
The proposed budget 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’s budget sessions have focused on the roughly $113 million in the city and parish general funds.
The budget is for the fiscal year that begins Nov. 1.