Walter Pierce

LCG wraps up budget process; showdown looms

by Walter Pierce

With a word of caution from Lafayette Consolidated Government’s finance director that councilmen should cleave closely to the mayor’s proposed 2009-2010 budget and a veto threat hovering, the Consolidated Council Tuesday wrapped up budget hearings ahead of a Sept. 29 finalization vote. The council decided at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting that a second wrap-up session is not warranted.

City-Parish President Joey Durel’s $587 million budget proposal was amended frequently over more than a month of hearings, although, perhaps sensing a tedious series of votes during finalization, several amendments and objections to amendments were withdrawn Tuesday, clearing the way three weeks from now for an easier session settling on a final budget.

The meeting bordered on heated when District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin pressed LCG Chief Financial Officer Becky Lalumia for an accounting of total expenditures for the comprehensive master plan since its inception in 1987 -- a figure including salaries for planning staff that comes to $4.1 million over more than two decades. The subtext of Shelvin’s request is his amendment two weeks ago to transfer $400,000 sought by Durel for jump starting the comprehensive plan, otherwise known as LINC (Lafayette IN a Century), to the council’s general reserve fund. If Shelvin’s amendment is ultimately successful, the $400,000 could be used for any number of things other than LINC. Countering Shelvin’s opposition to LINC, District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, saying he worried that “some people are comparing oranges to apples here,” called Traffic Director Tony Tramel before the council to detail the priorities of expenditures pre- and post parish consolidation. Sensing the mounting tension, acting council chairman Kenneth Boudreaux reminded the players that the evening’s purpose was a budget wrap-up session. “If this goes where I think it’s going, we’ll dispense with this item right away,” he warned.

Shelvin’s bid to transfer the LINC funding remains intact. Also still at issue is the funding fate of nearly two dozen non-governmental organizations like Festival International and 232-HELP, which receive roughly $450,000 in direct funding from LCG. District 9 Councilman William Theriot is seeking an up-or-down vote on the funding for each, which ranges from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars; an ordinance he co-sponsored early this summer that would have phased out funding for the NGOs fell by a 6-3 vote. Those measures will be voted on along with the rest of the budget Sept. 29. Confident that his original budget was fiscally sound, Durel warned recently that at least some of the budget amendments will need a 6-3 veto-proof vote or he will undo them with a stroke of the pen.