Ascension Parish government employees can expect a 1% to 1.8% cost-of-living increase later this month that is roughly in line with the raises at the School Board and Sheriff's Office, a top parish official said.
Parish government annually is a top 10 employer in Ascension. General fund, special revenue and other employees total about 638.
John Diez, chief administrative officer for parish government, informed the Parish Council of the expected raise Thursday night during a tense exchange with Councilman Alvin "Coach" Thomas Jr.
In Ascension, for many years, the Parish Council has set aside dollars for cost-of-living, merit and overtime costs in each budget year. The sitting administration often then decides mid-year or even later how much of a yearly increase to give employees.
Thomas, a west bank councilman who has at times been critical of President Clint Cointment's administration, in particular, for its attention to the Donaldsonville area, wanted to know what the status was of the annual raise promised before Thanksgiving.
"I think the employees deserve a raise," the one Diez promised in September, Thomas said.
The Parish Council set aside money for up to a 5% increase in 2020, but Diez told Thomas overtime costs related to the many hurricanes that threatened the parish this year and the novel coronavirus had eaten up much of that reserve.
"And between COVID(-19) and the six hurricanes, there's just no way in God's green earth that there's enough money in that 5% to give the employees parishwide a 5% raise," Diez said.
Thomas asked Diez if the parish had received any federal funding for its pandemic response or any hurricane recovery dollars. Diez said the parish had been awarded money but had not received any yet. The COVID-19 dollars weren't set aside for salaries, he added.
Diez said a 1% to 1.8% increase would match the current rate of the Consumer Price Index, which is a government measure of the annual cost of inflation for everyday goods, food and fuel.
"So, just for the record, they will be getting something," Thomas asked.
"Yes," Diez said.
"I appreciate that," Thomas said.
In July, the CPI had risen 1% over the prior year, with fuel and food costs included, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
Diez's announcement of impending raise for 2020 came as the Parish Council also approved its $191.5 million budget for 2021.
That spending plan has set aside money for up to a 4% increase next year, but also must again cover cost-of-living or merit raises and other payroll costs.