LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish Council unanimously approved a settlement offer from BP on Thursday, then quickly splintered into factions arguing over how the money should be spent and when that decision should be made.
Parish legal adviser Christopher Moody said the parish was under a federal court gag order not to reveal the amount it would receive for lost sales tax revenue after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. He encouraged the council not to disclose the number even after approving it, as other public entities have done in recent days.
But a couple of councilmen soon found “$200,000” rolling swiftly off their tongues as they got into a heated debate with their colleagues over whether the money should be spent on grass-cutting equipment or to prop up the shoestring budget of the parish’s animal control program for another couple of years.
Ultimately, the council voted 6-2 to delay the decision until the council’s Finance Committee can discuss options with Parish President Layton Ricks and other parish officials.
The debate over how to use the “no-strings” money kicked off with Councilman Marshall Harris making a motion to dedicate the funding to grass-cutting equipment, which Councilman Delos Blackwell supported.
Ricks asked the council to hold off on dedicating the funds until they could meet and discuss the options, noting that it would be about 60 days before the check arrives.
Ricks said he would like the council to consider using the money for animal control. The parish’s program is projected to run out of funding by the end of 2016, despite running on less than half the $250,000 budgeted for annual expenditures just two years ago.
Finance Director Jennifer Meyers encouraged the council to review its most recent audit report, presented Thursday night, before restricting the funding. She said the road fund has a recurring funding source through a dedicated sales tax, while animal control has only the dwindling proceeds from bingo and adjudicated properties.
“I’m not encouraging you to vote either way,” Meyers said. “I’m just encouraging you to not vote tonight.”
Council Chairman Chance Parent suggested putting the discussion on the Finance Committee’s next agenda, rather than jumping into a decision the same night they heard the settlement offer.
But Harris and Blackwell stood firm. Blackwell said he had been trying to get the parish to buy a certain piece of equipment for four years and asked why the parish hadn’t purchased it already if the funds were available.
Ricks said Public Works Director Sam Digirolamo planned to buy the equipment before the end of the year, probably in November. “He’s already got it priced out.”
“I’m just asking you to let me talk to you about it,” Ricks said.
Harris said it made no sense to put one-time funds into the animal control budget, which would need new funding annually, rather than spending it on equipment that could be used for years to come.
Blackwell said the one-time money would not solve the permanent funding problem.
“What happens then?” Blackwell asked. “If we’re going down, we’re going down.”
Harris and Blackwell continued to stand firm, but in the end, they were the only council members to vote against the delay.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.