Third time is not the charm for city budget

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Minden City Council members once again failed to adopt a budget Tuesday night, putting the city in danger of coming to a standstill if money runs out before they settle their differences.
With all city councilpersons attending, the vote was 3-2 against passing the budget. District A Councilman Wayne Edwards, District B Councilwoman Terika Williams-Walker and District C Councilman Vincen Bradford cast the dissenting votes.

Promised raises for Economic Development Director Phillip Smart and Human Resources Director April Aguilar appear to be at the core of the disagreement.

“There’s some things in there (budget) that need to be ironed out,” Walker said, as her reason for voting against the budget. “And the mayor’s aware of it. There are some employees that have not been here for a long period of time that are getting raises. That’s an issue.”

Another problem was raises for Minden Police and Firefighters.

District D Councilman Michael Roy made the motion to adopt the budget, adding a twist at the end.
“I move to adopt a resolution adopting the City of Minden 2021/2022 budget with the recommendation that a council workshop be held to discuss fire and police raises to determine the source of funding for a future budget amendment within 60 days,” Roy said.

If a budget is not passed before the end of a fiscal year, there may be consequences.
Louisiana Municipal Association handbook reads if a municipality fails to pass a budget:

“At the end of any fiscal year, if the appropriations necessary for the support of the
municipality for the ensuing fiscal year have not been made, 50 percent of the amount
appropriated in the appropriation ordinance for the last completed fiscal year shall be
deemed reappropriated for the objects and purposes specified therein.”

City attorney Jimbo Yocum said once that 50 percent of the budget is gone, there is no more money to disperse.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets half a paycheck,” Yocum said. “Once we meet that half-way mark, there’s no more money to be dispersed. If it’s (one cent more) nobody gets paid, so it’s a sudden stop.”
At that point, at the discretion of the state, “we will draw a legislative audit, which no one wants because that presents a whole host of problems.”

The back wall of council chambers was lined with Minden Police officers, some of whom gave impassioned speeches to council members in order to convince them of the need for first responder raises which can only happen with an adopted budget.

Jason Smith, president of the Minden Police Association, described the lack of police officers as a problem with pay, a crisis and a life and death situation.

“This is an officer safety and community safety issue,” Smith told the council. “We are down one-third of our officers, all from patrol. This means that at any given time, there are one to three officers on the street.”

In addition to Smith, Lt. Joel Kendrick described to the council the horror of telling a mother her child is dead due to violence in the city. Then, several local residents begged the council to put their differences behind them and pass a budget that would include the raises.

Resident Brian McLaughlin told the council that he knows everyone feels their job is important and difficult, however, “These guys (police) put their lives on the line every day. They took an oath; they don’t get to say ‘no.’ When you call, when I call, they have got to show up. If you can’t pay them, why do you get paid? You (aren’t) doing your job.”

Webster Parish Journal reporter Josh Beavers live-streamed the council meeting, which included all police and community comments, as well as comments from council members after the meeting. Please see his Facebook page for the extended story.