East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden released on Thursday his $880.4 million budget for 2016, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year, proposing raises for government employees and some significant boosts for public safety agencies.
The general fund for 2016 is $312.4 million, which is less than 2 percent greater than this year’s budget. The general fund is financed primarily from a 2 percent sales tax and pays for major governmental departments, including public works, police and fire. It’s the only discretionary part of the budget, as the rest of the funds are tied to taxes, debt service or pensions.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will have to approve the budget in December, and only at that time will it have the opportunity to move line items in the budget with a super-majority vote. Although it’s a rare occurrence, the Metro Council previously has voted to defund a nonprofit organization and issued raises to the Constable’s Office over Holden’s objections.
The budget remains relatively flat with a few exceptions:
- The District Attorney’s Office is getting a more than 16 percent increase in city-parish funds, for a total of $6.4 million. The agency requested the increase to help stay afloat and pay salaries because of its own ballooning cost of employee benefits.
- The Coroner’s Office is getting a 25 percent budget increase, for a total of $2.8 million. About a quarter of the increase comes from the office’s self-generated fees. The additional money is needed to fund a sexual assault response plan and regional forensic facility for the seven-parish area that was passed in a law in the most recent legislative session.
- About $8.2 million has been allocated for pay raises and related benefits for employees. The increase is related to a pay plan change that went into effect in April, increasing salaries across the board by 2 percent. The city-parish’s new minimum wage was increased from $8.05 to $9.30 per hour.
- The Police Department budget grew only 2 percent to $88.6 million. The agency requested a full academy of 30 new cadets and $7 million for new vehicles. The mayor’s administration approved an academy for 15 new officers and $1 million for vehicles.
- The Baton Rouge Fire Department is not getting an academy for new firefighters in 2016 but is slated to receive $503,000 for new equipment and firefighting gear.
Holden said public safety is a top priority for his budget.
“Our first responders have been given the necessary resources to maintain the highest possible ratings according to national standards,” Holden said in his budget remarks. “The 2016 budget includes funding for the largest complement of policemen and firefighters in the city’s history.”
Council members will review the budget over the next several weeks.
Councilman Scott Wilson said he’s looking to ensure the city-parish is being prudent with its money and is fully funding public safety.
Councilman John Delgado said he will look at whether there’s a pattern of underestimating city revenues that come in. He said if the city-parish receives on average more money in revenue than the budget projects, there could be a way to provide larger raises to employees.