Harahan council finally passes 2015 budget _lowres

Harahan Mayor Tina Miceli

It took until late June, but Harahan finally has a 2015 budget.

The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $5.9 million spending plan that gives the police and fire departments almost all of what they requested.

The Harahan Police Department got $1.74 million of a requested $1.8 million, and the Fire Department $954,339 of the $998,000 it sought.

The previous council didn’t pass a budget before it left office at the end of last year, and new Mayor Tina Miceli, who inherited an antiquated bookkeeping system and an operating deficit of well over $1 million, has been working through the first half of the year getting the city’s financial house in order.

Besides the general fund, the budget still draws money from other funds that officials would rather leave whole, but the city is working on improving its collection of fees and fines, switching its insurance plan and working with the state to gain reimbursement for past hurricane-related expenses that it may still be eligible for.

“I feel very proud of our department heads, our employees, who are pitching in and working really hard to do more with less, balance this budget and eat away at the deficit,” Miceli said, also thanking council members and the police and fire departments.

While she said straightening out the city’s financial woes will be an ongoing process, “this year it’s all about laying the groundwork to getting this government running the way it’s supposed to.”

Police Chief Tim Walker said the final budget was close enough to his requested amount to keep police officers on the streets an extra two hours a week by funding seven 12-hour shifts per officer per two-week period.

Walker, who sent out an email earlier Thursday after rumors surfaced that the council meeting might be postponed, thanked the council members for keeping the date.

“I think it’s a great starting point, and I’m really glad that the council met and passed a budget,” he said.

The city was operating on a provision that allows municipalities to access up to half their funding for the year if a budget has not been passed. However, had the city gone into July without a budget, key services would have to have been cut.

Fire Chief Todd St. Cyr said his department will not be able to hire two firefighters it lost in 2014, but he said he would look into other ways to achieve that goal and make some hoped-for equipment upgrades.

St. Cyr said the department may look into creating a nonprofit group to raise money for the department and that he hopes to find a way to resurrect a volunteer program that was discontinued several years ago.

“Of course, we understand that the city was facing a major deficit this year, and we’ll work with them on that and hope next year will be a different picture,” he said.

While there was some talk earlier this month about cutting the city’s curbside recycling collections, that service remains intact.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter @Chad_Calder