The District Attorney’s Office could soon receive a $700,000 boost from the East Baton Rouge Parish government to help the cash-strapped agency stay afloat and pay its salaries.
A law enforcement office is included in a group of agencies and projects in line to receive funding under Mayor-President Kip Holden’s proposed midyear budget supplement.
Also included in the budget proposal is $2 million to purchase additional police vehicles and computer equipment to accommodate the 24 police academy trainees who are expected to graduate in September. There’s also $100,000 proposed to expand the city-parish’s summer youth programs by 125 kids. The program currently has 100 kids who are assigned summer jobs, keeping kids occupied in the months off from school and paying them for their work.
The total value of Holden’s appropriations is $9.2 million. More than half of those funds are from dedicated revenue streams where the projected spending is less discretionary.
For example, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council Chambers in the City Hall building, where council members hold meetings, will get a $1.4 million renovation. Those dollars come from fees collected from cable companies that are designated for providing television access to governmental meetings.
About $3.55 million of the allocation, collected from traffic impact fees, will go toward road projects: $2.8 million toward North Sherwood Forest Construction; $600,000 for a West Parker turning lane; and $150,000 for traffic signal improvements at Quail Drive and Perkins Road, Bawell Street and College Drive, and College Drive at Banker Lane. The River Center also will get $310,000 from dedicated downtown funds from state sales taxes for renovation work.
For the past several years, Holden has offered midyear budget supplements, which are effectively an additional list of projects he has agreed to fund when revenue unexpectedly exceeds projections. Metro Council members and department heads often use this as an opportunity to request special projects not included in the original annual budget or to request aid for unexpected budget shortfalls.
The district attorney’s allocation was the most urgent of the requests.
The agency’s budget, which receives funding from fines as well as state and local government, has been in dire straits for years. For the past few years, the District Attorney’s Office has been regularly dipping into its reserve accounts to pay its operational costs and salaries.
Now, the reserve account, at about $1 million, is low enough that the District Attorney’s Office will run out of money by the end of the year without help.
“We can’t make payroll if we don’t have that $700,000,” said Mark Dumaine, chief of administration for District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
A combination of a standstill budget and increasing operating costs related to ballooning benefits have led to the budget woes.
The city-parish has stepped up to the plate over the years to increase its annual contributions to close the gap. In 2009, East Baton Rouge Parish contributed $4.1 million to the district attorney’s budget, which was 38 percent of its funding.
The latest proposed contribution would mean that the district attorney’s budget is now supported 47 percent by the local funds. The $700,000 will be in addition to $5.5 million the city-parish committed to the office earlier in the year.
The total 2015 budget is $13.2 million.
Dumaine said the DA’s Office will ask for the additional $700,000 in its total allocation from the city-parish next year, which will stabilize the budget.
“This will not totally solve the problem, but $700,000 will make a significant difference,” he said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender’s Office is experiencing a financial crisis of its own. In April, Public Defender’s Office Director Mike Mitchell said he expected his agency would be $135,000 over budget by the end of the fiscal year.
He has had to eliminate staff positions and cancel a subscription to Westlaw online legal research service.
The city-parish doesn’t provide any funds to the Public Defender’s Office, nor is it constitutionally required to, as is the case with the District Attorney’s Office.
Mitchell said Friday he has yet to formally request funding from the city-parish but that he could in the future.
The Metro Council will vote on the full budget supplement at a special meeting called for Wednesday.