ST. FRANCISVILLE — Questions about the role of the Economic Development Board and whether it or the parish president has authority over funding decisions were raised at a special board meeting on Monday.
Parish President Kevin Couhig made it clear to the five board members present that he believes the Home Rule Charter gives the parish president the authority to make funding decisions because it gives him final authority on budgetary matters.
The questions arose when the board learned that Couhig had decided to allocate economic development board funds from its 2015-16 budget to help pay for The Big Chill in the Ville, a first festival event set for July 2 at the Sports Park.
Couhig said The Big Chill’s expenses will be $51,000, and he anticipates attracting “well over 1,000” attendees. The budget includes $18,500 for marketing and $32,450 for the actual event. All of the money, except $13,000 from the Sports Park’s budget to cover fireworks and music, comes from the economic development board’s 2015-16 budget.
Couhig anticipates generating $10,000 through sponsorships and another $12,000 in revenue from beverage sales, vendors and promotional items, meaning the event will end up costing roughly $29,000, minus the $13,000 kicked in from the Sports Park. He said all net proceeds will be returned to the EDB.
“If we meet our projections, that means that we will net spend $16,000, most of which will be spent on branding, advertising and promotion to raise top-of-mind awareness about West Feliciana as a cool place to grow and family or a business,” Couhig said.
The authority to allocate economic development board funds triggered two questions from member Cole Thornton. He wanted to know who has final authority over the board budget and the approval process: the board, the parish president, Parish Council or another entity. He also asked if the board, chaired by Couhig, serves as a decision-making board or if it serves merely in an advisory capacity.
Members attending the meeting acknowledged the questions likely will require legal opinions from parish counsel Dannie Garrett, District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla’s office or perhaps another authority. Opinions are not legally binding.
Couhig presented a memo outlining Thornton’s questions as well as documents that support his position that the parish president has the final authority.
In the memo, Couhig wrote, “These are important questions that we need to answer definitively going forward to avoid confusion and discord.”
Later in the memo, Couhig wrote, “There appear to be two schools of thought on this and clarification of these roles and responsibilities is needed.”
He also presented a portion of the Home Rule Charter, which he said provides the parish president the authority under Powers and Duties of the Parish President: “He shall prepare and submit an annual operating budget and capital outlay program to the Council and shall be responsible for executing the budget and capital program after adoption by the Council.”
However, later in the document, in the section pertaining to boards and commissions, the wording is vague: “All Boards/Commissions shall provide financial oversight for the organizations to which they are appointed.”
Financial oversight in the charter is defined as, “Responsible for making sure that it works efficiently and correctly.”
Couhig also presented a letter from D’Aquilla from May 2014 that stated the “Parish’s economic development tax proceeds are received by the Parish, not the EDB and therefore must be included in the budget of the parish as a special revenue fund.”
On the other hand, in minutes from a Jan. 23, 2012, meeting, the Police Jury, which preceded the home rule charter form of government, gave final authority to the board: “(The Police Jury) recognizes and designates the EDB as the approval authority for the expenditure of economic development funds to include designated taxes, donations and grants. The EDB will allocate funds as appropriate to further economic endeavors that benefit” the parish.
Couhig told the panel it’s his belief that once a budget is approved by the Parish Council, the president can move money around “to accomplish what he wants.” He said even if the economic development board didn’t support funding the festival, he’d likely proceed with it anyway.
Board member Bryan Vollmer said he believes the parish president clearly has the authority to spend money from this year’s budget.
Kevin Bearden, another board member, questioned the decision to fund the festival.
“Why am I wasting my time being here?” Bearden asked.
Randy Metz said Couhig was making a decision that “sends a message to this board you don’t care about our opinions.”
“If I were on the Economic Development Board, I would raise the same questions as far as the authority versus advisory question,” Couhig said after the meeting. “What is clear, under the Home Rule Charter, the parish president is designated as the sole authority for producing budgets and managing expenditures.”