Parish Council rejects pay raise proposal

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

With parish elections scheduled for next fall, the Iberville Parish Council last week refused in an 2-10 vote to consider raising their – or their successors pay – from $14,000 to $18,000 a year for the term beginning in 2012.

The council also refused to discuss Plaquemine Councilman Eugene P. Stevens Jr.'s proposal to cut the size of the council to nine members to match the size mandated for the Iberville Parish School Board that voters would elect in 2014. The vote against was 2-9, with one abstaining.

Councilman Warren “T-Notchie” Taylor of White Castle tried to introduce an ordinance raising council members' pay from $1,200 to $1,500 a month, $100 less than the maximum allowed under state law.

“Many citizens are unwilling to serve as members of the parish council due to the demands of the position in order to effectively represent a council district,” the proposal stated.

It noted the numerous meetings and forums the council members are encourage to attend to promote the parish, that members are not reimbursed for in-parish travel and that they don't receive health and hospital benefits from the parish.

The Home Rule Charter voters approved in 1997 set the council's salary at $856 a month, but allowed the council to increase the salary during the last year of a term that would go into effect for the next council.

The charter also provides for the parish to reimburse members for “properly authorized vouchered expenses” when they travel outside the parish on official business, and allows them to sign up for parish health and hospitalization insurance at their own expense.

In the vote on introducing the ordinance and setting it for public hearing, Taylor got support from only from Councilman Henry J. “Bucket” Scott Jr. of Bayou Goula. Councilman Salaris Butler of Seymourville abstained, and the rest of the council voted against.

Stevens got support only from Councilman Terry J. Bradford of Plaquemine on his proposal only to discuss reducing the size of the Parish Council. He said he would not try to come back with a proposed ordinance.

“They didn't even want to talk about it,” Stevens said later. “When you've got a majority of the council that don't want to drop it down, there ain't nothing you can do [sic].”

In legislation passed earlier this year, the Iberville Parish School Board must reduce its number from 15 to nine and redraw its districts in time for its 2014 elections.

The Parish Council has to redraw its district lines based on the 2010 Census in time for its elections next year.

Stevens wanted the council to match the both size and districts and ultimately the districts of the School Board. The change would make the election process easier for everyone including the Registrar of Voters, the Clerk of Court and the voters, he said.

“Government is too big right now,” the former council chairman said. “Personally, I think it needs to be cut down.”

In an unusual turn of events, Stevens was one of three council members who votes against the introduction of the ordinance containing the Ourso Administration's proposed operating and capital outlay budgets for 2011. Councilmen Leonard “Buck” Jackson of St. Gabriel and Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine also voted no.

The budget is scheduled for public hearing November 16 on the $33.76 million proposal.

Finance Director Randall W. Dunn said the spending plan includes a $28.2 million operating budget along the lines of this year's. Dunn said he had budgeted for a reduction in sales tax revenue, a large source of parish revenues, in this year's budget. Even though sales tax proceeds are up for 2010 compared to 2009, the finance director said has continued to estimate conservatively for next year's budget.

A $5.5 million capital outlay budget includes $2 million in funds that might come through for federal hurricane recovery projects. Dunn said the parish probably wouldn’t receive the bulk of the funds from the Louisiana Recovery Authority until 2012. The parish and municipal governments are supposed to get some $33 million in recovery money all told.

The capital outlay budget includes $1.7 million for utility improvements and expansions that could arise during the year and $1.8 million for the construction of the North Iberville Community Center.

In his report to the council, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said the state Office of Facility Planning Control has approved the plans for the center and authorized the parish to put the project out for bids.