CONVENT — The St. James Parish Council on Wednesday will consider approving the parish’s proposed 2015 budget, a financial plan that includes a controversial pay raise for justices of the peace and constables.
Some parish officials, which includes the justice of the peace who spearheaded the effort to obtain the pay increase, said they aren’t satisfied with the amount being considered.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Fifth District Justice of the Peace Trina Moll. “I really thought they valued us much more than they did.”
If the budget is adopted, the pay hike amounts to $100 a month that will be split between each justice of the peace and constable serving in one of the parish’s seven districts, Parish Councilman Jason Amato said.
However, Amato said he was unsure how the money would be divided between the two.
St. James Parish justices of the peace are now paid $450 per month and constables $400 per month, officials have said.
Parish Council Chairman Charles Ketchens said Monday he was unsatisfied with the raise and planned to discuss the matter further with the council members.
“The two in my district work very hard for the community,” Ketchens said of his district’s justice of the peace and constable.
But Amato, who led a committee that researched salaries and workloads of the positions in neighboring parishes, said he believed local justices of the peace and constables were already “fairly compensated.”
The Parish Council could take action on the proposed 2015 budget at its Dec. 17 meeting if it is not passed Wednesday.
Meanwhile, other parish workers are set to receive pay increases based on job performance if the proposed 2015 budget is passed, Amato said.
The pay increases of up to 3 percent, similar to the increases included in the 2013 and 2014 budgets, are given to full-time employees at management’s discretion, Parish President Timmy Roussel said.
Moll said the substantial amount of taxes collected from local industries during the past several years and the new projects under construction led her to believe the parish could afford a larger raise for justices of the peace and constables.
Projected revenue for the 2015 budget is expected to reach $59.6 million with operating revenues anticipated to be $6.7 million more than last year.
Construction of more than $4 billion in new industrial projects in various permitting and final engineering phases are projected to yield more than 800 new direct and permanent jobs with possibly 2,000 more indirect jobs, Roussel said.
Property tax collections is the parish’s largest single source of income with an expected $16.9 million anticipated in 2015, about the same amount collected in 2014, according to the budget.
Budget expenditures are expected to reach $61.6 million with operating expenditures $10.9 million more than last year due to several major capital outlay projects, including the $1.3 million phase two of the Mississippi River Trail project and the completion of a multipurpose and recreation building in District 5 Welcome Park in the community of St. James.
The $3.2 million multipurpose and recreation building is partially funded by a federal hazard mitigation grant covering nearly $900,000 while the parish will pay the rest of the cost, said Melissa Wilkins, parish spokeswoman.
Ketchens said the building should be completed by the first quarter of 2015.
Officials previously cited major capital outlay expenses like the recreation building as a reason for not supporting the raises for the justices of the peace and constables.
“We just can’t spend, spend, spend,” Amato said, speaking of additional park and recreation projects. “There’s a reason we are saying ‘no’ to some project requests.”
Council members asked Roussel to include in the 2015 proposed budget a new “budget philosophy” that will help explain to the public and other parish officials how the parish hopes to spend its money.
Prior to the Parish Council’s vote to approve the proposed 2015 budget, a public hearing on the budget will be held at 6:15 p.m. at the Convent courthouse.