Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts says he and his colleagues are giving this year's annual budget proposal more scrutiny than usual, and that he may even call a special meeting if the council can't finish its consideration of the $645 million spending plan when it meets Dec. 6.
Roberts said he hopes the council can get through the budget at the regular meeting, but he warned that he will be combing through the nearly 600-page document carefully after questions were raised earlier this year about spending on renovations to Parish President Mike Yenni's office.
WWL-TV reported in September that those renovations cost upwards of $170,000, though Yenni said very little public money was spent to renovate his office, which includes a starburst-patterned rug and couches similar to the one that was in former President George W. Bush's Oval Office.
"I don't intend to be quick in rubber-stamping" the budget, Roberts said Friday. "I will take the time needed so that the entire council is comfortable."
In October, the council unanimously passed a resolution asking the administration for reports detailing the expenditures on the office renovations. Roberts said the parish's inspector general also asked for copies of the reports.
In presenting the 2018 budget to the council, Yenni touted the conservative financial principles that he said his administration used to put it together.
"This proposed budget strictly follows conservative fiscal policies, while insuring that Jefferson Parish will maintain its current excellent bond rating and is well positioned for the future," Yenni wrote.
The budget projects that property tax collections will remain consistent with the 2017 total and that there will no increase over 2016 sales tax receipts.
Total revenue is projected at about $623 million, and expenditures are expected to reach $645 million, the budget says. The difference will come from the parish's reserves.
Yenni promised administrative review on all requests to fill empty positions as well as any employee travel. But he also said employees would be in line for a 5 percent merit-based pay increase, similar to what was passed in the previous year's budget.
The budget proposes $494.6 million in operating expenses.
The majority of the parish's revenue has been dedicated by voters to specific uses, but that creates inflexibility that harms parish government, Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng said.
Lee-Sheng this year helped push through the creation of a committee to study the problem. That group will begin meeting next year, with an eye toward possibly rededicating or undedicating some funds to direct them to areas where they are more needed.
"We don't have a lot of flexibility," she said. "The general fund is very stressed."
The parish's undedicated general fund spending is about $103 million, less than one-sixth of the total budget. Of that, $43.5 million is dedicated to functions that are mandated by the state, such as supporting the jail, courts and the District Attorney's Office. That means the parish president and council have direct control over about $59.5 million, according to the proposed budget.
The budget also includes $76 million for capital projects, of which $29.6 million is budgeted for drainage and flood protection upgrades.
The budget was on the council's Nov. 15 agenda, but action was deferred until Dec. 6.