Ascension Parish Council approves cost-of-living raises

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The Ascension Parish Council passed an ordinance amending the pay classification scale to allow cost-of-living increases for parish government employees.

The council met in Gonzales Dec. 9, addressing the tiered cost-of-living raise approach of 7, 5, 4.2, 3.25, and 2.5 percent based on labor grade.

In opening the discussion of the ordinance, District 7's Aaron Lawler asked if the move would result in raises for all employees.

Ascension Parish Chief Financial Officer Patrick Goldsmith answered it will increase the salaries by the percentages in the tiers, and it will start in the Dec. 27 pay period.

"As much as I love a cost-of-living raise, I've always viewed it as a kind of socialism," Lawler said. "Everybody's getting the same thing. It's a very socialist way of doing things."

Lawler said he preferred giving raises based on performance.

"Employees want to work hard. If they see people getting raises, they want to attain that. In my opinion, performance-based raises encourage people to work harder. That's an opportunity we've been denying them now for two years," he said.

Ascension Parish Council members Aaron Lawler and Dal Waguespack are shown in a file photo from late last year.

Goldsmith said the cost-of-living adjustment is just keeping up with inflation, which was recently reported as 6.2 percent over the previous 12 months.

The financial officer said creating a system that factors in inflation as well as takes care of quality employees will "live through administration to administration."

Goldsmith said the target is set for early in 2022 when the new human resources director starts.

"If the timing works out right, the first quarter of next year you'll get an ordinance and a merit plan," Goldsmith said.

District 2's Joel Robert was among the council members to commend the finance department on the plan.

"It allows the money to go where it needs to go, especially for those employees who are living check to check," Robert said.

Goldsmith thanked parish administration, particularly Chief Administrative Officer John Diez, for challenging the finance department to get the plan done.

"The math was a little bit of a challenge, but we made it work," Goldsmith said. "We've actually had a little bit of interest from other parishes and entities in how we did this."

Christel Slaughter of SSA Consultants speaks to the Ascension Parish Council during the Oct. 7 meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville.

In another matter, Christel Slaughter and Cody Saucier of SSA Consultants provided an update on the efficiency and effectiveness study. It seeks to reduce the cost of government, improve services, and improve oversight.

During the presentation, Slaughter pointed out the "startling estimated population growth" for Ascension Parish. In 1980, the parish had about 50,000 residents. The estimate graphic showed some 150,000 people currently, and nearly 200,000 residents expected by 2030 based on the current trajectory.

The study compared benchmark data from Livingston, East Baton Rouge, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany parishes.

The parish government organizational chart starts with the parish president at the top, followed by the CAO. The third tier includes: Director Infrastructure Division, Director Finance Division, Director Planning and Facilities Management Division, Director Health and Community Services Division, and the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

"This is very much a corporate-type of structure for government, as close as you can get. Very functional, and very clear," Slaughter said.

Recommendations presented also included:

  • Develop performance management system and revise personnel policies;
  • Improve productivity through mandatory leadership and supervisory skills training;
  • Ensure all new employees meet minimum qualifications;
  • Modernize parish technology;
  • Establish departmental dashboards;
  • Require quarterly budget to performance reporting;
  • Establish stronger communications outreach;
  • Evaluate fleet usage and costs; 
  • Continuously upgrade parish standards, regulations, and operations.