Peralta vetoes changes St. Bernard Council made to 2015 budget _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta leaves the parish jail after posting bond Thursday, April 24, 2014.

St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta may be facing an array of legal troubles, but he apparently is not backing away from exercising his authority.

On Thursday, he announced that he will veto seven items that were included in a last-minute amendment to the parish’s recently adopted $58 million operating budget for 2015 and will eliminate $225,000 for a nonprofit formed to promote local economic development. He said the moves are necessary to keep the budget balanced.

Peralta’s intentions — disclosed in a two-page letter to Parish Council Chairman Guy McInnis — drew a mild reaction from McInnis, who said he mostly agreed with Peralta’s logic but would push to restore most of the economic group’s funding through a higher forecast for sales tax revenue.

“To be honest with you, I agree with it (the vetoes) in principle,” said McInnis, who is considering running against Peralta for parish president next year.

The Parish Council can override a veto with a vote of at least five of the seven council members.

In his letter, Peralta said the vetoes were necessary to protect “the integrity of my administration and the right of every citizen to have a fully functioning government.”

The operating budget proposed by Peralta called for $57.5 million in spending — $25.2 million from the parish’s general fund and $32.3 million from its special revenues fund, which includes money for services such as sanitation, public works and fire protection — compared with $59.2 million in anticipated revenue, including $29.4 million in the general fund and $29.8 million in special revenue.

That left an excess of revenue over spending of $1.7 million. With capital projects and other accounts included, his budget still projected a surplus of $930,000. Peralta said that money is one-time funding that needs to be kept in reserve. In adopting the 2015 spending plan last week, the council amended it at the request of newly elected District Attorney Perry Nicosia. The council added almost $265,000 in spending, including $202,000 for Nicosia’s office to hire additional prosecutors. To offset the increases, the council trimmed more than $205,000 elsewhere, including from professional services such as money set aside to hire outside legal counsel and financial consultants, and added $61,000 to the forecast for sales tax revenues.

Peralta took particular issue with hiking the revenue projections. “As a guardian of the public fisc, it is my solemn duty to protect the citizens’ investment from spending whose revenue source may never materialize,” he wrote. “This is a dangerous precedent that, if left unchecked, could lead to detrimental consequences for our financial future.”

In his letter to McInnis, Peralta said he would veto the additional tax projections that the council amended to his budget. He also said he would override the council’s decision to strip $57,200 from professional services and almost $70,000 for hiring a supervisor for the parish’s Roads Department that were included in his original budget.

Peralta said Nicosia’s requests for more money — seen as a way to “modernize his office and place key personnel in positions that will streamline the process to prosecute criminals” — were reasonable. But he said the parish had to make difficult choices. “My support of his office must be tempered by the hard fiscal truths we experience today,” he wrote.

The council’s budget amendments “threw into chaos months of work performed by my financial department,” Peralta contended. “In one deed, the budget was slashed and essential lines were cut without my consultation.”

To make up the difference from adding the eliminated spending back into the budget, Peralta said he would cut $225,000 that was budgeted for the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes economic development projects in the parish, even though he said it has been a “boon” for St. Bernard.

“No one can say that it has not met or exceeded its goals,” Peralta wrote about the group. “It is therefore, with a heavy heart, I must veto the funding afforded to the EDF in its entirety. This will bring the budget into balance.”

McInnis said he mostly agreed with Peralta but plans to introduce a budget amendment that would reduce money for the economic fund by $75,000, putting it at $150,000, and make up the difference by boosting the sales tax revenue forecast.

Thursday’s veto was the second time Peralta has vetoed a measure approved by the council in as many months.

In November, he vetoed a measure that would have imposed a six-month freeze on salary raises for parish employees, thereby limiting his authority. Eventually, Peralta and the Parish Council agreed to a compromise that any raises granted by Peralta over the following six months would need to be certified by parish Finance Director Ross Gonzales and the council’s Executive Finance Committee before taking effect.

Peralta is awaiting trial on felony charges of stalking and sexual battery against his ex-wife.