The Kenner City Council voted Thursday to move forward with constructing a new food bank building despite objections by a council member that proceeds from the sale of streets in his district should not have been included in the project’s funding.
The council also voted to create a committee to consider changes to the City Charter that are expected to include pay increases for elected officials.
That resolution was first proposed earlier this year but was deferred until after the newly elected council convened this month.
District 1 Councilman Gregory Carroll, whose district would include the $705,725 food bank building, said that $125,000 derived from the otherwise unrelated sale of four streets in his district to the East Jefferson Levee District should not have been redirected into the project by the administration.
Carroll, the lone vote against awarding the construction contract to low bidder J.A. Jack Julius Inc., complained in a letter to Mayor Mike Yenni earlier this week that the funding structure took too much money from his district.
Thursday night he cited a 2006 ordinance that says money from street sales should go back into the same district for infrastructure improvements.
City Attorney Louis Gruntz, however, said the food bank building is considered infrastructure and the funding structure follows the law.
Carroll contends the 2006 law intended for the money to be used only for traditional infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks.
He said he supports the food bank project, noting that the existing facility at the Worth Street fire station is in deplorable condition, doesn’t have a bathroom for the public and has only one bathroom for the staff.
But he said the food bank, which will be at Lloyd Price Avenue and Oxley Street, is a citywide resource.
“This is a city of Kenner food bank,” he said. “It is not a District 1 food bank.”
Carroll showed the council a slide indicating that while just under half of the food bank’s users come from District 1, every district has constituents using it, some of them significantly.
His objection came despite a last-minute amendment to the ordinance in which each of the other six council members agreed to contribute $13,600 to the project, offsetting the need for funding that was to come from the expected sale of other streets in Carroll’s district.
As for the charter committee, the council voted unanimously to create the body after approving an amendment that gave each council member an appointment.
The original ordinance called for a seven-member committee composed of one appointee each from the mayor, the chief of police, the council and presidents of four area universities. The change replaced the four universities and the council as a whole with the seven individual council members, increasing the number of members to nine.
The suggestion came prior to the meeting from resident Richard Brown, and the council unanimously agreed that changing the charter is important enough to warrant representation from every council district.
While the ordinance creating the committee doesn’t restrict the changes the committee will consider, it was proposed by Keith Reynaud earlier this year as a way to give the city’s elected officials raises of between 44 percent and 54 percent and to permanently tie their salaries to those of state judges.
Reynaud said the salaries for council members, police chief and mayor are too low and the posts would attract more quality applicants if their pay is increased. He said tying the officials’ salaries to judges’ pay would ensure the salaries keep pace without future council members having to vote to raise their own pay.
He said many other parts of the charter may be considered by the committee, which will meet publicly over the coming months before proposing changes back to the full council.