GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council plans to take public comment and vote on a $119.6 million budget for 2015 on Nov. 20 after the council took a key early vote on the financial plan Thursday.
The parish government spending plan calls for a 5 percent pay increase for parish employees, nearly $43 million in capital improvements and operational expenditures of $76.7 million on various areas of parish government.
The overall budget is $24.9 million more than what the parish will end up spending in 2014 — about $94.7 million — but that difference is primarily fattened by new capital projects in 2015 and existing ones that carry over from year to year.
New capital projects include the first phase of a planned parish sewer system, which is being paid for with a low-interest loan through the state Department of Environmental Quality, and a new soccer complex at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, which would be funded with a yet-to-be-approved 5-mill recreation tax on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Parish government operational expenditures in 2015 represent a nearly 5 percent increase from what parish officials had hoped to spend in 2014 when they adopted their budget in late 2013 and expected expenses of $73.1 million.
But increases in 2014 have put the parish’s operational expenditures for all of 2014 now at $75.4 million, $1.3 million less than what the parish plans to spend in 2015, according to parish budgets.
Parish President Tommy Martinez told the Council Finance Committee earlier this month that 2014 has been a tough one, as far as building maintenance, including new roofs for parish buildings housing the sheriff, District Attorney’s Office and Department of Public Works.
In 2015, nearly one-third of the parish operational expenses are projected to be for general government operations, or about $23.4 million.
Martinez told the Council Finance Committee on Oct. 6 that the trend of costs rising for parish government will have to be watched because they pull from Ascension’s undedicated 1-cent rural sales tax, which pays for a variety of parish government functions.
“There is no way of getting out of paying these costs. It’s not something that we can just say, ‘We’re not going to pay you.’ You can say that, but you’d probably go to jail,” he told the committee.
On Thursday, the Parish Council agreed in Gonzales to introduce the budget ordinance without opposition, which sets in motion the final budget hearing next month at the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
The ordinance sets out the new 2015 budget and amends the 2014 budget one more time before the end of the year.
Parish Chief Financial Officer Gwen LeBlanc noted in an interview after the council meeting Thursday that it is not clear when the proposed parish employee raises for 2015 would kick in if the budget were approved.
A 3 percent raise built into the 2014 budget did not take effect until July, essentially resulting in a 1.5 percent pay increase for the year, she said.
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