The Westwego City Council will spend the early part of 2015 scouring the mayor’s proposed $16.6 million spending plan for the fiscal year that will begin Jan. 1, looking for ways to pinch pennies as part of the city’s annual exercise in trying to do more with less.
The council voted unanimously Monday night to delay discussion of the budget until Jan. 12, with councilmen saying they need more time to come up with ideas about where to cut.
Mayor John Shaddinger’s proposal projects $15.5 million in revenue, including $589,270 that would come from 10 mills in property taxes the city plans to put before voters next year.
The city will ask voters in the spring to approve 6 mills to fund new equipment purchases and maintenance for the Fire Department and 2 mills each to fund the water and sewer departments.
Councilman Norman Fonseca pointed out that if the proposed property taxes are rejected by voters, “then this budget’s no good.”
“Parts of it are still good, but you’re right,” city accountant Jim Butler replied.
The proposed budget would leave an unrestricted fund balance, sometimes known as a “rainy day fund,” of $225,380, which is about what the city has had in recent years.
The sewer and water department budgets will benefit from a 12.5 percent increase next year in fees charged to residents, on top of a 12.5 percent increase this year.
However, even with those increases and the $117,854 projected to flow into each department’s budget from the proposed millages, they would still need to be subsidized by the city’s general fund to the tune of $316,283. That’s down from about $900,000 a year before the council approved the two rate increases.
Shaddinger has pushed to make the two departments fully funded by their own revenue streams, though he has run into resistance from the council and residents.
Councilmen Larry Warino and Glenn Green said they needed more time to go through the numbers, and the full council agreed to the delay, though some councilmen made suggestions.
Councilman Roland Toups asked the mayor if any departments can make do with less. Shaddinger replied that no city employees will be getting expected 2 percent cost-of-living raises next year, including himself, the police chief and the council members, saving a total of $47,300.
Councilman Johnny Nobles asked whether overtime could be trimmed from the EMS budget, pointing to a two-week period with 24.5 hours of overtime at a time when three technicians were working even though only two can ride in the ambulance.
Toups asked if EMS could be moved under the control of the Police Department, where overtime is not allowed.
“I don’t make any, so no one else is gonna make any,” Police Chief Dwayne “Pancho” Munch joked.
Shaddinger, however, nixed the idea.
“I have no intention of combining that department with the Police Department,” he said, adding that while he is sure Munch would do a great job, “if it’s not broke, it doesn’t need to be fixed.”
He told Nobles the third EMS employee on the shifts that he mentioned was being trained.
Nobles suggested reconsidering whether the city needs a tourist welcome center, which he said costs $40,000 a year but is visited by only a half dozen or so people a month.
Shaddinger said much of that money goes to lease the building, which will no longer be necessary once a nearby building the city owns is renovated. He added, however, that he would consider making a cut there.
Nobles also suggested the city consider increasing its permit fees, which are much lower than in surrounding areas. Chief building official Skip Lombas said he would provide a cost analysis. However, he added that he has built houses in Westwego and elsewhere in Jefferson Parish, and that he spent $1,600 on permits in the parish compared to about $450 in Westwego.
“We are the cheapest,” Lombas said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.