Walter Pierce

Council flexes muscle, overrides majority of Durel vetoes

by Walter Pierce

The Lafayette City-Parish Council Tuesday undid seven of City-Parish President Joey Durel’s 12 vetoes to the budget, reinstating roughly $659,000 in funding out of $1.17 million cut by Durel from his proposed $587 million budget.

Council members overrode Durel’s deletions of five Public Works positions ranging from laborer to equipment operator which had been vacant. The council failed to override Durel’s veto of one Public Works laborer job, as well as a seventh job title — environmental quality inspector — which would have been a new position.

The council also overrode Durel’s vetoes of $300,000 for paving parking lots at parks in Judice and Carencro.

Twice during the almost four hours of veto consideration, District 5 Councilman Jared Bellard became exasperated by a perceived lack of information sharing between the administration and the council, at one point exclaiming, “Why are we just now getting up to speed? I’m tired of not being up to speed with information!”

The most ado was made of Durel’s vetoes reinstating some $395,000 in funding to equip hundreds of LCG and LUS vehicles with GPS tracking. Echoing his veto statement from two weeks ago, the administration made a strong case for anticipated annual fuel and overtime savings by tracking the movement of the city-parish’s fleet of vehicles. District 8 Councilman Keith Patin, a proponent of GPS, arranged for a short presentation extolling the benefits of the system. An industry official estimated city-parish government could save 20 percent annually on fuel costs alone.

Two weeks ago the council voted twice to delete funding for the GPS system -- $275,000 for LCG vehicles and $120,000 for the LUS fleet. In failing to override Durel’s vetoes, the council voted along party lines: All five Republicans voted against the override and to keep the GPS funding intact; all four Democrats voted to override.

Lafayette architect Andy Hebert, whose campaign against consolidation in the late 1990s is legendary, re-emerged from a long hiatus Tuesday to press, repeatedly and ad infinitum, his city expense-versus-parish expense, taxation-without-representation case before the council. Hebert’s repeated appearances at the microphone during the nearly four hours of discussion and voting on Durel’s vetoes ultimately prompted council Chairman Purvis Morrison to quip, “I’m going to have to put you a chair up there!”

District 2 Councilman Jay Castille, a retired firefighter whose firefighter pay increase plan was vetoed by Durel for a 2009-2010 savings of $420,000, agreed Tuesday to withdraw his motion to override the veto. Castille backed off after getting word from the administration through the state agency that administers retirement accounts for public employees that LCG’s contribution to the firefighters’ retirement plan is likely to increase next year, which would have made Castille’s fire pay plan more expensive than initially thought. The plan sought to raise the starting pay for Lafayette firefighters to $2,400 per month.

However, District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who had seconded Castille’s motion to override, refused to back down and was seconded by District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin. Ultimately, the override vote failed 8-2, with only Boudreaux and Shelvin voting in favor of an override.

“I served 20 years on this department, and for those 20 years [I have] been trying to get that department where it belongs. It’s not there; it’s a way off,” Castille said before the failed override vote. “The pay is the major issue. We have some serious things coming up in the next couple of years that we have to look at, and we’re looking at millions of dollars that we’re going to have to spend. Where it’s going to come from? Not a clue… So, what I’m willing to do is look at this pay issue in six-month intervals and try to implement this $2,400 pay scale issue and get us to that point and continue looking at funding sources to get this department where it needs to be to protect the citizens of Lafayette.”

Durel readily agreed to revisit the fire pay issue next year. “You have my public commitment on that,” Durel said.