Capping a tumultuous season of budget workshops and council meetings, the Mandeville City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $40 million budget for the city’s 2015 fiscal year, which begins Monday.
Even without a single dissenting vote, the process for examining and approving the budget — including some 10 hours of workshops — was far from collegial. Tempers flared several times, most recently Wednesday, when council Chairman Rick Danielson and Mayor Donald Villere got into a shouting match that ended only when Danielson ordered a break in the session.
That type of animus between members of the council and Villere has been common over the past two years of budget sessions, with the council accusing Villere of withholding information and Villere accusing the council of meddling in administration business.
When the dust settled this year, the budget passed was close to the one Villere presented to the council in June. It includes some signature Villere items, like a $500 across-the-board raise for city employees except those at the director level. It also includes some items important to members of the council, such as $1 million for the East Mandeville Bypass Road and $550,000 for flapper valves to go on the drain pipes that drain into Lake Pontchartrain.
The 2015 budget includes $18.8 million for operating expenditures and $21.7 million for capital projects.
The capital budget includes $1 million to partner with the parish to build the bypass road, which is outside the city limits but is expected to improve traffic in and around Mandeville.
Not surprisingly, Villere blamed the council for many of the problems in the budgeting process.
“This council does everything at the last minute,” he said, adding that it demands information but provides little in return.
“Everything with this council is an ambush,” he said.
Danielson, normally one of the cooler heads on the council, said the process needs to improve and should begin earlier.
“We have to do more prep earlier in the year,” he said. Such preparation doesn’t necessarily mean studying the actual budget numbers, which are still being worked on, he said. But there are issues that can be studied, such as the number of employees the city budgets for.
The 2015 budget calls for 132 employees, but more than a dozen positions are unfilled, many of them chronically so. Several council members have publicly questioned whether the city needs that many positions.
Councilman David Ellis said he plans to study the matter in the coming year, trying to see how many employees the city needs to maintain services.
Danielson said he plans to convene a meeting of council members, administration representatives and others to strategically plan the city’s future and that he hopes the session will lead to fruitful discussion of the budget.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.