Parish budget adopted; date chosen for election

Wade McIntyre

The Ascension Parish Council unanimously adopted a $106.2 million budget for 2010, which includes $68.45 million in operating expenses and $47.76 million for capital improvement work.

Council members at the Thursday regular meeting also made several amendments to the 2009 budget, including a $10 million adjustment because Louisiana Recovery Authority money that had been budgeted for this year won’t be received until next year.

Although sales tax revenue in the parish is falling due to the recession, the 2010 budget is larger than 2009 primarily because of the capital improvements program.

The money for most of the capital improvements will come from state and federal sources, including grant projects, and Hurricane Gustav recovery money. Ascension also recently received a revolving fund loan from the state for $18 million to start work on a parish-wide sewer plant. Another $8 million will be spent on road work in 2010.

Parish officials say they expect the parish to remain operating in the black through the end of the year, due to generally conservative budgeting since tax receipts began tailing off.

The budget includes about $7 million in cuts proposed by Parish President Tommy Martinez, including no new hiring by personnel in 2010.

Another of the amendments to the 2009 budget allows a $100,000 transfer to the parish Lamar-Dixon Fund.

Parish Chief Financial Officer Gwen LeBlanc told council members the transfers were needed because officials found “outstanding debt issues” they were not aware of when the $7.5 million center was purchased during the summer.

The billings were for two roof repairs, a sewer pump repair, some computer conversion work, and others, LeBlanc said.

She also requested that the Lamar-Dixon Fund be reclassified as an enterprise fund.

She said the parish now has a better handle on personnel needs at the facility.

In other unrelated business Thursday, the council voted to set a special election for May 1, 2010, calling for a public vote on Home Rule Charter changes recommended by the Home Rule Charter Commission.

The 28 proposed amendments are to be grouped into eight ballot items, with all 61 precincts in the parish open for voting.

The call for the election did not receive unanimous support.

Councilman George Valentine said he could not vote for calling for the election because the charter should only be changed for serious matters, and the proposed changes did not meet that standard.

Valentine said the commission had proposed nothing to stop conflict between administration and the council, which was its mission.

Valentine also objected to tying the salary of the parish president to that of the sheriff, and said the cost of the election, which he estimated to be $75,000, was his main objection to the election.

In the voting, which was done by the eight ballot item groups, Councilmen Todd Lambert and Oliver Joseph joined Valentine in opposition to the motion pertaining to the parish president’s salary.

In the other votes, Lambert and Valentine were the only objectors.