St. Tammany's budget will be slimmer next year, but employee paychecks may be slightly fatter if the Parish Council approves an ordinance to give a 2 percent across-the-board raise to employees.
But workers, who did not get a cost-of-living raise this year, will have to wait until the new year to find out whether they will get an increase in 2019.
The Parish Council voted unanimously — and without discussion — to adopt the $99 million operating budget submitted by Parish President Pat Brister in October. That's down $3.2 million from the current year, a reduction required because of the third — and final — defeat of a pair of sales tax renewals that would have paid for operating the jail and courthouse. Those costs must now come from the general fund.
The budget approved by the council at its Dec. 6 meeting did not include any pay raises, one of several austerity measures resulting from the pinch on the general fund.
The council also adopted the $20.3 million capital budget, which is down from $31 million this year.
The lack of employee raises had sparked lengthy debate at the Parish Council's November meeting, when Councilman Richard Tanner proposed a 2 percent raise only for Public Works Department employees. He and others who supported that measure argued that those are among the lowest-paid parish workers.
Giving those employees a 2 percent raise, at a cost of $273,000, wouldn't have put an additional squeeze on the strapped general fund because their salaries come from a dedicated sales tax for public works.
But some council members argued that salaries are low for employees in many departments. Others worried that giving some employees a raise but not others would be bad for morale.
The Parish Council in November ended up tabling the matter to get more information on what it would cost to give a 2 percent cost-of-living raise to all employees earning below $35,000.
But at its December meeting, the Parish Council introduced an amendment to the 2019 operating budget that called for the 2 percent raise for all employees, which Tanner said would cost $500,000.
Less than half of that money would come from the general fund, he said.
The amendment, which will affect numerous salary line items in the budget, was introduced but has to lay over until the next council meeting, on Jan. 3.
The meeting was also the last of the year for Councilwoman Michele Blanchard to serve as chairman. The Parish Council voted for Mike Lorino to take over that position in 2019. Councilman Gene Bellisario was elected vice chairman over Councilman T.J. Smith.