Jefferson Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse plans to introduce a resolution meant to keep the parish from using BP settlement money to fund raises for parish workers, as proposed last month by one of his colleagues.
The resolution calls for putting the tens of millions of dollars in escrow until the parish develops a “comprehensive spending plan” that would benefit the areas in the parish most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
It’s scheduled to come up for a vote next week, as is an ordinance proposed by Councilman Ben Zahn that calls for using a portion of the BP settlement to provide 5 percent raises for parish employees.
Though resolutions do not carry the same weight as ordinances, the parish administration usually heeds them.
It’s not clear which measure has a better chance of passing.
All seven council members favor giving so-called “cost of living” raises to parish employees, hoping to keep them from leaving for better-paying jobs in the private sector. But the council has not reached a consensus on how to pay for the raises.
Lagasse, who is running to become the next parish president this fall, favors spending the BP money on communities close to the Gulf that took the brunt of the spill’s impact, such as Grand Isle and Lafitte.
So do Lagasse allies Chris Roberts and Ricky Templet, who have said they’ll back the resolution putting the BP money in escrow.
Zahn argues that the settlement reached with BP was meant to reimburse Jefferson for lost sales tax revenue following the oil spill — not for damage to coastal communities.
He said other pending litigation should bring in millions of dollars to compensate Grand Isle, Lafitte and other communities.
Once attorneys’ fees are paid and special parish districts providing various services get some of the money, the parish will have about $34.7 million of the BP money left, Zahn said.
Zahn’s plan calls for handing out about $4 million to each of the five council districts for building projects and other improvements. It would set aside $9.6 million to cover the raises until 2019, with about $5 million left over.
Zahn estimates the raises would cost the parish about $6.7 million a year. He said all but $2.4 million of that would be covered by existing taxes, with the rest coming from BP money.
Zahn concedes the parish would have to count on increased tax revenue or cost-trimming to pay the higher salaries beyond 2019.
Zahn can count on support from Councilman Paul Johnston, who has endorsed his colleague’s plan. Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, a frequent Zahn ally, said the proposed ordinance is good but has stopped short of endorsing it as drafted.
Councilman Mark Spears said Thursday he had not made up his mind.
Jefferson Parish and other government bodies sued BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill, claiming the environmental and economic fallout cost them revenue. BP settled with Jefferson Parish and various other government bodies last month.