PORT ALLEN — City leaders are mulling over an $8.4 million proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year that includes the purchase of body cameras for Port Allen police, a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise for full-time employees and a proposal from the mayor to implement longevity pay increases for longtime city workers.
The budget proposal, which is approximately $1 million less than the one for the current fiscal year, also includes a suggestion from Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain to use a portion of the more than $6 million in reserve funds to repay the $2.5 million outstanding debt for the construction of City Hall.
Some council members appear poised to take McCain’s suggestion because the source of revenue the council uses to repay the debt continues to decline.
However, other council members are more hesitant about depleting reserve funds because that money is often used for emergency situations like hurricane recovery.
“I’m not quite sure yet; I’m still debating it,” said Councilman At-Large R.J. Loupe. “You don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. Because if you don’t have it, you have to go and borrow it.”
Loupe’s response is one McCain said she expected when she proposed the idea at last month’s City Council meeting.
“The council likes having this safety net of revenue,” she said. “It takes awhile for us to save up revenue, but if I have enough there to cover most contingences, why not use some of that to pay it off?”
The city allocates about $238,000 annually toward its obligation on the refinanced bonds the council issued in 2011 for City Hall.
Going into the 2015-16 fiscal year, which begins July 1, the council still owes $2.5 million.
The council has used video poker revenues since it began repaying the debt after City Hall was built in 2006.
But McCain says that fund has dropped considerably from the nearly six-figure amounts that it used to funnel into city coffers nearly 10 years ago.
“I can’t explain why,” she says. “It has continuously declined since 2011.”
McCain says the city received $30,500 in video poker revenue in 2011 and then $29,500 in 2012. Flash forward to 2015, when the city received only $15,000 in video poker revenue.
Even if the council chooses to withdraw the $2.5 million it will take to repay the City Hall debt, the city will still be left with nearly $4 million in rainy day funds for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I am, kind of, leaning toward that,” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Rivere said. “As soon as she mentioned that to us, I was kind of for that. I really believe we can replenish that fund over the next few years.”
Councilman Garry Hubble said he’s ready to retire the debt.
“We’re in good financial shape to do it. I think it would be very beneficial to pay it off at this time,” he said.
As far the rest of the administration’s budget proposal, a majority of the council appears ready to give it their blessing when it’s scheduled for a public hearing and possible adoption at City Council’s June 10 meeting.
Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence declined to comment on any budget-related matters when contacted last week, claiming she was still reviewing the proposal.
Councilman Brandon Brown did not return calls for comment.
“I think it’s probably one of the best budgets we’re going to have within the last 10 years,” Loupe said.
The city’s 2015-16 spending plan includes a $60,000 request from the police department to purchase computer equipment, Internet cards for police units and body cameras.
McCain added the purchase of the body cameras would be contingent on the police chief securing a grant to help pay for the mini cameras.
The administration has also set aside another $375,000 for the city’s five-year road improvement program, currently in its second year.
City employees could get a 4 percent across-the-board pay bump, and Mayor Richard Lee has asked the City Council to give him authority to implement what he’s calling “longevity pay increases.”
According to the budget proposal, full-time employees would be given additional pay increases every five years.
“It gives employees an incentive to stick around,” Rivere said.
Hubble added, “Incentives are good for any work place.”
Hubble said the only suggestion he has for the administration is that consideration is given toward creating a position for an economic development liaison.
“This person would help promote the city and make those ties and connection we need to push our Master Plan forward,” he said.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.