This is probably not the most appropriate Christmas Eve column, but on the other hand, the Christmas season is at the very least about miracles and goodwill among men. That was not the case a week ago when the Bossier City Council deliberated on Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker’s operating fund budgets for 2015.
Instead, the occasion the very definition of acrimonious.
A little recent history … the 2015 proposed operating budgets, which includes everything from the general fund budget, to sales tax fund budget, jail and municipal fund budget, to the riverboat gaming trust fund budget – and many in-between, was exceedingly tardy in being presented by the Mayor to the Council. It was so tardy, in fact, that Council members did not feel they had the in-depth due diligence time to review the budgets, and as recently noted, engaged an outside CPA firm to make the review.
Last Tuesday was the setting for the Council and Mayor’s public discussion of the city’s 2015 spending plan.
At-large Council member David Montgomery led the Council’s discussion by offering several amendments to the budget, and vociferously noting that the Mayor’s proposed cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for city workers couldn’t be funded given the present condition of a $1.1 million shortfall in the budget.
Mayor Lo Walker was equally steadfast in his contention that city leaders could find the money if they want to provide the proposed pay raise. Walker said he was not suggesting that pay raises be an annual budget item, but “we need to do it” this year.
Walker also noted that six years ago, when the well-remembered budget crunch occurred, the city employed 897 employees. Today, that number is 155 less – but present city employees have picked up the slack and continue to provide the same level of service as in previous years.
Walker suggested that funding the raises could be done using un-allotted funds for current vacant city employee positions. At-large Council member Tim Larkin was emphatic in his support for city employees saying that he believed there was a “… lack of equity” that he believed should be debated “in earnest and thoroughly” to look for and give city employees what they’ve fairly earned.
Montgomery and District 3 Council member Don “Bubba” Williams responded that because this raise would be into perpetuity, using presently un-allotted funds from unfilled positions may not be a source of funding in the future. Both referenced the budget crisis of 2008 as a benchmark standard for how not to plan a budget.
The discussion, nearly an hour long, ended with Council votes to approve the 2-percent increases for public safety employees of less that three years and more than 23 years employment with the city – but deny the 2.5 COLA to regular city employees.
Finally, the Council introduced an ordinance to establish September 15 of each year as the deadline for the city administration to provide to the Council “… a complete copy of the General Fund Operating Budget and separate ordinances for each budget listed …” Penalties for missing that deadline, for the Mayor and perhaps the Finance Director, would include fines and/or jail time.
Before I’m a local political columnist, I am a long-time citizen of Bossier City. To say that I found last Tuesday’s Council meeting a disappointing experience would be an understatement.
We elect a mayor and seven council members to work together to further the interests of the citizens of Bossier. That means the Mayor adheres to the budget timelines established in the City Charter, and when he does not, the Council is professionally contentious in bringing this error to the Mayor’s and public’s attention, often and vocally – starting back in October, when the budget should have been presented.
We have a City Charter – do we really need a new law that threatens to jail the Mayor?
That means that all Council members express their concern for any deviation from the Charter established schedule – instead of last Tuesday’s performance when two representatives had not a single contribution to the discussion (District 4’s Jeff Free and District 5’s Tommy Harvey). District 1’s Scott Irwin and District 2’s Jeff Darby made minimal contribution to the discourse.
Finally, that means that politics isn’t a dirty word in Bossier City, but one that defines a group of elected officials working together for the benefit of the City.
Merry Christmas and here’s hoping for a much better New Year at Bossier City Hall.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at