GONZALES — Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux on Wednesday vetoed — for the third time — the city’s capital outlay budget, continuing his opposition to the nearly 25 percent cut the City Council made to the Police Department’s equipment funding.
“I am passionate about public safety and feel we must give this Police Department the tools they need to fight crime,” Arceneaux said.
However, the mayor said he let the city’s primary budget, the general fund budget, stand even though he opposes a cut made to the nonprofit Ascension Economic Development Corp. by Councilmen Gary Lacombe, Terance Irvin and Timothy Vessel.
“Although I continue to highly value the services of AEDC and disagree with the cuts forced on them by the three councilmen, I do feel the city’s operations can no longer stand to linger in an indefinite state of flux,” Arceneaux said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
He said he particularly did not want to continue to delay a pay hike for city employees.
“Most importantly, city employees have waited almost four months for a promised 2 percent cost-of-living raise that we have not been able to implement due to this budget impasse,” the mayor said.
The two budgets are for fiscal year 2015 which began June 1 and end May 31, 2015. The battle over them began in April when the council first voted on them. The mayor has vetoed the general fund budget twice.
Arceneaux said that if cuts in funding for the Police Department’s equipment and other capital assets continues, he’ll consider future vetoes of the capital outlay budget until elections on Dec. 6 when voters may go to the polls to decide whether to recall Lacombe and Vessel.
“I hope everyone understands that I have been forced into this position by three councilmen,” Arceneaux said, referring to Lacombe, Vessel and Irvin. “We have been unable to find common ground on this issue as has been the case so many times.”
SaveGonzales, an effort to recall Lacombe and Vessel spearheaded by a group of residents, this week turned in to the parish’s Registrar of Voters Office petitions for the two council members’ recall.
That office has 15 working days from the submissions of the petitions to certify if there are enough valid signatures for the governor to place each of the recall propositions on the ballot.
SaveGonzales launched its recall effort in April against Lacombe and Vessel, who vote in a bloc with Irvin on the five-member council. The other two council members are Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux.
The three council members have regularly voted to reject rezoning requests and, in recent months, voted to cut the Police Department’s capital outlay funding from $427,000 to $327,000.
The largest items on the Police Department’s capital outlay budget are nine police cars and surveillance cameras for the city.
“It is important to the Police Department and regular citizens,” Police Chief Sherman Jackson said Wednesday of returning the department to its full funding level.
“The mayor and I work in the day-by-day operations of the city. The bottom line is, we know what we need,” Jackson said.
A capital outlay budget pays to acquire, maintain, repair and upgrade capital assets such as land, equipment or buildings.
“Although this veto means holding up the capital outlay budget and some of the important projects involved within that budget, this is a price I am willing to pay in order to fight for the tools necessary to protect the citizens of Gonzales,” Arcenaux said Wednesday of the proposed $5.5 million budget now on hold.
On the other hand, with Arcenaux’s acceptance of the $14.1 million general fund budget, the city will no longer be operating at half of last year’s budget for general fund operations.
“Had that been exhausted, we wouldn’t have been able to pay any employees or any of our bills,” said City Clerk Clay Stafford.
The general fund is the city’s largest budget and funds the majority of operations for the city, Stafford said.
The mayor twice vetoed this budget after Lacombe, Vessel and Irvin voted to slash in half the city’s funding of the AEDC from $100,000 to $50,000. The three councilmen rejected a $75,000 compromise offered by the mayor at one point.
Councilman Boudreaux said Wednesday he agreed with both of the mayor’s actions — vetoing the capital outlay budget and letting the general fund budget be adopted.
“We’ve got to move the general fund forward to support our employees,” Boudreaux said.
But, he said, he supports full funding for the Police Department.
“Public safety is my No. 1 priority,” Boudreaux said.
Councilman Matassa agreed.
“We’ll stand behind the chief of police,” Matassa said.
Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel did not attend the news conference and could not be reached for comment. The three have said very little publicly about why they made the budget changes.