Parish Council set to introduce ’09 budget Thursday

Aaron E. Looney

The Ascension Parish Council is scheduled to introduce a proposed $92.4 million budget during its meeting Thursday at the Parish Courthouse in Donaldsonville.

The council held a special budget review meeting Thursday, where Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant told the council that the the parish’s operating and capital budgets would be balanced under the proposed plan.

The proposed 2009 budget comes in $26 million less than the 2008 amended budget, a 21 percent decrease in spendings Parish President Tommy Martinez has credited to the current economic status of the country and the rising cost of doing business for parish government.

Grant said that dollars budgeted to capital projects decreased from $46 million to $33 million in the proposed 2009 budget. Those debts include unfunded mandates that have arisen in recent years, an $800,000 annual cost for the current 350-bed expansion of the parish jail near Donaldsonville, paying off $6.5 million in drainage bonds and completing outstanding road projects such as the 2001 parish road construction project, a $1.4 million annual incurrence that has yet to be completed.

The proposed 2009 budget also features a $58 million operating budget.

The proposal also features a decrease of $4.8 million, or 24 percent, in the general fund, Martinez said. The decreases include cutting $525,000 from the road and bridge maintenance fund, cuts of $482,000 in acquisition of equipment for East Ascension Gravity Drainage District No. 1.

Grant also said that there will be no new parish road projects in 2009, but that the parish would continue to work on outstanding projects from previous years. However, he said that the funding was being moved to work on state roads that serve as major arteries in the parish. Those plans include adding a center turning lane on Hwy. 73 and Hwy. 42, both in Prairieville.

One issue Grant discussed was hiring fewer parish employees, but raising the salaries of the current positions. This includes raising the pay of entry-level parish employees from $7 to $10 per hour to stop the high turnover rate and “help recruit better employees.”

The plan also includes a 5 percent cost of living increase for all parish employees, detailed job descriptions and a career progression for every employee.

Grant also said that the proposed budget would call for the hiring temporary employees for 20 hours a week instead of using contract employees. Such a move would eliminate spending of up to $1.6 million on benefits.

Another area Grant said the parish could save under the proposed budget plan would be to lease necessary vehicles and equipment instead of buying them. The plan would create a $500,000 line item for leasing and possibly save the parish $1.5 million annually in purchases.

Grant also told the council that the parish will place a one-time capital outlay $750,000 into its recreation department budget to upgrade current park facilities.

After the budget is introduced, the council will have 30 days to officially adopt it.

Also on Thursday’s agenda is an item under Martinez’ report for the appointment of a new public works director. The position has been open since former director Bob Turner announced his retirement.