East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden unveiled the parish’s 2015 budget proposal Wednesday, with no surprises, no wins for city workers who hoped for pay raises and no dedicated money for the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.
The proposed total 2015 budget is $830 million, a 2.55 percent increase from 2014’s budget.
Holden said the budget has grown as the city has flourished with economic initiatives and infrastructure improvements.
The general fund, which is $306 million and makes up the largest portion of the budget, increased by 2.5 percent thanks to higher sales tax revenues. The general fund is the only part of the budget that officials have some flexibility over in terms of making spending decisions. Other parts are locked for dedicated purposes.
The budget includes money for renovations to Fire Station 12 on Government Street and for a second police academy that will train 30 police officers, which will help fill the void from scheduled retirements in 2015.
The lack of money for city worker pay raises in the budget proposal has agitated union representatives, as well as some Metro Council members.
Councilman John Delgado expressed his disappointment Tuesday, saying that he cannot vote for a budget that does not include raises.
William Daniel, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, said the administration is looking at pay raises for city workers next year, but the main problem with squeezing his proposed pay plan into the 2015 budget is simply a lack of time.
He said raise negotiations are not finished and even once they are, the personnel board and Metro Council still have to approve them. Instead, Daniel plans to introduce a budget supplement early in 2015 that will include raises.
Approving pay raises may be a lengthy process, but city officials have been in the thick of it for more than two years.
A study the Metro Council commissioned in 2012 revealed that city workers are underpaid compared with their counterparts in other cities, but enjoy better benefits. The study showed an adjusted pay raise scale with workers bringing home paychecks that are 6 percent fatter, with fewer benefits.
Now that city officials are proposing 2 percent pay raises with cuts to benefits, public service workers’ union president LaTanja Silvester said city leaders are not following through on their own suggestions. She noted that the $160,000 cost of the study will not pay off if city leaders ignore its advice.
“I don’t believe the mayor’s administration understands how they are contributing to poverty, not only in Louisiana, but also in their own backyard,” Silvester said.
Firefighter union president Shane Spillman said his union planned to submit a counter proposal for pay raises and benefits to the city this week. Police union representatives are also at the negotiating table, but have declined to comment until a plan is finalized.
Holden fired back at the public criticism of his administration’s handling of the raises.
“Professionals do not negotiate contracts in the press,” he said.
A lack of money in the budget for the Redevelopment Authority is also the mayor’s latest move in a public spat with former RDA head Walter Monsour. The Redevelopment Authority voted last month to ask the Metro Council for $3 million in dedicated funds out of the 2015 budget.
Monsour resigned earlier this week, saying he hoped his resignation would extend the life of the cash-strapped agency. His hope was to free money from his $375,000 compensation package, which makes up more than one-third of the operating budget.
Holden said he has not received “one negative call” about not giving money to the RDA. He said his focus is on ensuring people in the city have places to live, and plans to discuss ways to make that happen with RDA representatives and other housing ventures in Baton Rouge.
Without more money, the RDA could run out by the end of 2015.
John Noland, the RDA’s chairman of the board, said the RDA still plans to ask the Metro Council to override the mayor’s decision and give the RDA the money it needs to stay afloat.