Last summer, discussions of Mandeville’s proposed 2013-14 budget were volatile affairs, with conflicts between Mayor Donald Villere and members of the City Council flaring frequently and pushing the sessions late into the night.
This year, however, Villere’s proposed $40 million budget for the fiscal year starting Sept. 1 appears far less controversial, and Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Danielson has vowed that the review sessions starting Monday will be efficient and more focused.
Danielson said he hopes to keep the council zeroed in on “big picture” features of the budget and avoid getting bogged down in examining every line item in the 165-page document, as occurred several times last year.
Another help to speeding this year’s budget process is the fact that three items that caused the most debate last year have been mooted.
The first issue — the employment status of Susan Russell, the contracted director of Keep Mandeville Beautiful whom Villere wanted to move to a full-time position with the city — ended when she resigned last month. Villere wanted to make Russell a full-time communication consultant for the city, saying her duties had evolved and the city should bring her on full-time. But the council balked at the notion, repeatedly demanding more information about her position until the issue was tabled indefinitely.
There are no new positions in this year’s budget, Villere said. The city has about 116 employees and 10 vacant positions.
The second controversial issue was whether the city would devote about $4 million to two road projects: Dalwill Drive and the parish’s planned east Mandeville bypass road. The first is a private road, and the second is outside the city limits, and despite repeated requests from Danielson and other council members, Villere fought including them in the budget.
Even so, the council appropriated money for the two projects for 2013-14. It has not yet been spent, but Villere included the two projects in next year’s budget even before receiving Danielson’s request that he do so.
The third disputed item was the cost of employee health care. Employees’ premiums had not increased in two decades, but the cost to the city was skyrocketing. The council addressed that issue earlier this year, approving a new plan that raised employees’ premiums.
Villere, too, expressed hope that the process will go easier than it did last year. “I always hope it goes smoother,” he laughed.
One item that isn’t in the budget but certainly will generate some interest from the council is a proposal to give city employees raises of at least $500 each. The item is on the agenda for Thursday night’s council meeting, but only as a presentation and discussion. No vote will be taken.
The raise, which would apply to all city employees below the director level, would cost the city about $125,000 in the first year, Villere said.
Many of the city’s employees, some of whom earn less than $10 per hour, were hit especially hard by the increase in their health care costs. Many of those same employees can’t afford to live in the city, Villere said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.