Council finalizes budget spending for ’14, ‘15

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley

The Gonzales City Council voted 3-2 to adopt the amended 2014-15 general fund and capital outlay budgets at its May 12 meeting, however it would not go unprotested.

Councilmen Gary Lacombe and Terance Irvin pushed to change several budget items on at the previous meeting that would amend the general fund and capital outlay budgets. With a third yea from Timothy Vessel, Sr., the opinions of councilmen Kirk Boudreaux, Kenny Matassa and a few citizens did not matter as an $800,000 project for a service road study along Interstate 10 between La. 30 and La. 44 was added, while a cut to the Ascension Economic Development Corporation.

The council’s 3-2 vote also spread out the Fire Department and Police Departments spending over the next couple of years, according to Lacombe “not cutting but stretching out money over time.”

Before the council’s final vote, several residents wanted to address the council about the budget changes and Mayor Barney Arceneaux allowed three minutes to speak at the podium.

Before the vote on the amended general fund budget, former Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry, referring to the $800,000 slated for an I-10 service road study, asked directly to Irvin to recuse himself from voting due to suspected family gain.

“You hear them heckling at you and laughing at you, It’s time to do the right thing,” Landry said. “Vote right and vote your conscious.”

Irvin originally recused himself from voting for the service road study at the April 28 meeting, upon potential family or personal gain. However, at that meeting it was clarified and he voted on the same night in favor of the study. It was no different on May 12. The questioning is in place because Irvin’s father, Melvin Irvin Jr., owns, either individually or through a business, several parcels of property along South Commerce Avenue, which is east of the interstate.

Following the meeting, Terance Irvin said the location of a service road along I-10 hasn’t been determined and the $800,000 is for preliminary planning. He indicated he would seek an opinion from the state Board of Ethics as to whether he should recuse himself from voting on the issue.

Ascension Chamber of Commerce President Matthew Pryor also addressed the council, asking it not to “turn its back” and restore funding to the AEDC, and police and fire departments.

“We’ve heard from this council repeatedly that you stand for economic development. Yet the actions are that you want to slash the budget of the AEDC, the experts in economic development in this parish and in Gonzales, and their returns by the way have been phenomenal,” Pryor said.

“When you say you’re in favor of economic development, you don’t have anybody out recruiting businesses and the businesses that do come you’re not going to give them the necessities of the fire and police to protect us as businesses,” Pryor said.

“Gentlemen, those chairs you sit on are not thrones,” Pryor said. “This is not the dark ages where feudal lords have to kill each other to have seats of power.”

“Our government is by the people, for the people of the people. Those are seats of honor and trust. You should use the power that’s given to you to lift up the people and you don’t lift up people by turning your back when a company wants to come in and invest millions of dollars creating jobs.”

Before the vote on the capital outlay budget was taken, Councilman Lacombe discussed the budget amendment to buy four police units, instead of the nine that Police Chief Sherman Jackson had requested.

Lacombe said he was not cutting the department, he wanted to spread out the replacement of the units over several years. However, Police Chief Sherman Jackson did not receive Lacombe’s notion.

“Gary, you have to have faith and trust in me that I know how to run the replacement and maintenance schedule needed to run these cars,” Jackson said. “It’s not for you to decided when a car is good or no good.”

“If you want to be the chief, you can run for it.”

Upon the final vote, Councilman Matassa told to Lacombe and others who were in favor of amending the budget he couldn’t believe they were doing it for a “pie in the sky survey.”

“Ya’ll say directly you don’t know where the road is going to go and ya’ll call that economic development,” Matassa said. “I just can’t believe ya’ll doing that.”

Lacombe said in replying to Matassa the Fire Chief said at the last meeting he did not have a problem with how we were doing it.

“We’re not cutting the fire department or police department, what we’re trying to do is stabilize the spending across years on capital outlay,” Lacombe said. “That’s it.”