City budgets are not supposed to be fun and games — even when they contain, as Covington’s does, almost $400,000 dedicated to recreation.
The line item for recreation is one most Covington leaders wish they didn’t have to swallow. But after voters in 2014 rejected tax proposals to fund a recreation district that would have encompassed the city and a backup plan to form a partnership with nearby Recreation District 14 fell through, Mayor Mike Cooper has again included the spending — which come from a portion of a sales tax dedicated to recreation — in his proposed $24.2 million budget for 2016.
The budget, Cooper said, conservatively estimates the city’s revenue while addressing some of the pains that come from growth — everything from increased traffic to a need to centralize the city’s purchasing functions and pay city employees more competitive wages.
As for recreation, the city will do what it can for now even as it continues to look for ways to improve its offerings, Cooper said.
Cooper, along with several other city leaders, backed last year’s plan to revive Recreation District 10, which would have included the city. But voters rejected that idea, sending responsibility for recreation back to Covington. Cooper then explored forming a partnership with the adjacent recreation district, but that didn’t happen.
“Recreation could be so much more in the future when a greater population supports it both financially and with participation,” Cooper said.
Apart from recreation, Cooper is asking the City Council to approve funding for two new police officers. One would serve as a resource officer at William Pitcher Junior High School; the other would be a traffic officer to help manage increasing congestion in the 200-year-old city.
The cost for the new resource officer would be largely borne by the school system. The city would cover the cost of the traffic officer.
“So much traffic comes into our city during the day,” Cooper said, pointing to major draws such as the city’s schools, St. Tammany Parish Hospital and the Justice Center.
Cooper also wants to create a position for a full-time purchasing agent for the city, saying the state legislative auditor has recommended it. Such a move was approved in last year’s budget, but no one was ever hired.
Also included in Cooper’s budget is a 3 percent raise for non-civil service employees and a 5 percent raise for civil service employees — mostly in the police and fire departments.
Cooper budgeted money last year for cost-of-living and merit raises for employees, but he then learned that civil service employees, by regulation, cannot receive merit raises. Giving them a larger raise this year is an effort to make up for last year’s mistake, he said.
Cooper noted that the approximately $1.1 million the city received as part of the BP oil spill settlement has been set aside. He also recommends the city begin setting aside $350,000 annually to start a trust fund to help cover future retirement benefits.
The council will hold a public hearing and vote on the budget at its Nov. 17 meeting.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.