Crowley City Council addresses budget woes

By: Howell Dennis
CROWLEY - The Revenue and Finance Committee of the Crowley City Council met Monday morning to discuss the 2012 fiscal budget.

It has been well known for some time that budget cuts would have to be made ‘across the board.’ However, the proposed cuts to the Crowley Police Department ($292,141) and the Crowley Fire Department ($217,205) have drawn serious concern from Crowley Police Chief K.P. Gibson and Crowley Fire Chief Jody Viator as well citizens and the aldermen. It has been stated that if the budget passes, in its current state, 50 percent of the cuts would come from those departments, the police department will lose nine officers and the fire department would lose seven. Twelve other jobs would also be lost in other city departments for a total of 28 jobs.

Police and fire make up almost 50 percent of the general funds so the 10.15 percent would result in drastic cuts in both departments. In total, the city would lose 28 employees due to the proposed budget reductions.

The amount that is being deducted from the city’s budget is $1,013,250 from a $10.8 million budget. This would equal to 10.15 percent.

“Of course, we know why everyone is here today,” said Elliot Dore who chairs the committee. “In times like this we have to go into the general fund that unfortunately has a shortfall.”

Alderman Vernon ‘Step’ Martin suggested taking the chance of dipping into the general fund ($2 million with a shortfall of $1 million) to help save some jobs. He also asked why the fund hadn’t been used earlier to avoid the present situation.

Alderwoman Kitty Valdetero responded sternly.

“That two million dollars isn’t a surplus Mr. Martin,” she said. “Three or four years ago we had eight million.”

“We forecast a two percent growth,” added Crowley Mayor Greg Jones. “We’re in a declining economy and have been considering other things such as 32 hour work weeks, however that just isn’t practical in some departments.”

“I want to go on record as opposing a 50 percent decrease in the police and fire departments,” stated Alderman Lyle Fogleman. “I’m saying this as the chairman of the Public Safety Committee.”

Fogleman also asked about the $1.2 million dollars that was received from Cleco electric company last year.

“That money has been spent,” replied Mayor Jones. “Cleco money doesn’t have a name on it when it hits the general fund.”

Fogleman replied that he didn’t think the money should have been spent without discussing making cuts at the time.

Chief Gibson spoke next.

“When I look at making cutbacks at my house I begin with the nonessential needs,” he said. “When you look at this $292,000 we’re talking about eight or nine officers losing their jobs. I’ve already lost two younger officers to the Youngsville Police Department because they feared losing their job.”

“Have we looked at other alternatives such as inmate labor,” he contiued. “I would hope that you think about this from a public safety standpoint...please consider that aspect. We had a shooting and a stabbing last week. We have a lot of violent crimes. I just hope that whatever is done is done quickly so that I know where to go from here.”

“I can’t fathom laying off people who do dangerous jobs,” added Martin. “This is a shock to me.”

“Mr. Martin where have you been every time I’ve been saying that we need more money,” responded Valdetero.

“What we’ve done the past couple of years is go into retained earning and we have said that this economy will turn around,” said Jones. “Then we have something happen like the BP oil spill that raised our unemployment from five to eight percent. I don’t wake up every morning thinking of who’s job I’ll have to cut. I’m trying to think of ways to raise revenue. These cuts are being made across the board and right now this budget is a reflection of an across the board cut.”

Alderman Steven Premeaux suggested that each department looks over the budget and studies to see where they could cut.

“I think any department head here can tell you right now what they can cut,” responded Gibson.

“It’s not like Judy Istre just put these numbers together,” replied Dore. “Unfortunately the only thing we can cut back on are services. There’s not that much fat here. We have already dipped into fund balances. Do you suggest that we drain the fund balances to zero?”

Martin suggested waiting one more year with the current balance to avoid having to ‘fire these men.’

“Mr. Martin none of us want to fire anybody,” replied Valdetero. “You cannot take a million out and leave nothing. What if a hurricane hits? What would we do then?”

“If a hurricane hits and we’re missing nine police officers and seven firemen that won’t help us during a hurricane either,” replied Martin.

“We have to look at the entire city Mr. Martin,” Valdetero replied.

Valdetero then asked Gibson if ‘there was something we can do to save these jobs?”

“I’ve looked into it and come up with some examples,” said Gibson. “We can make cuts on festival overtimes, football and recreation overtimes and employment overtimes.We’ll make any cuts we can to reduce the number of people that would have to be let go.”

“I’m worried that my next step is to talk to the sheriff and ask if they can handle dispatch duties,” he added. “I’m trying to avoid closing the office at 4 p.m. and having a phone outside that says ‘Call 911.’ I know that this isn’t a vote day but I think the longer we wait it hurts. I’ve stopped hiring people and I’d like to see a protocol set.”

After a pause Jones responded.

“This is easy,” he said pointing to the papers containing the budget.

“This isn’t,” he said as he pointed to the police officers and firemen who were in attendance. “I’ve been looking at these faces for years.”

Crowley Fire Chief Jody Viator addressed the council next.

“If I lose one more person we lose our Class 2 rating,” said Viator. “If the budget I’m looking at today passes I lose seven men.”

Viator also mentioned money that was owed to the department from responding to out of town calls. However, when asked by Alderman Fogleman, no one was sure exactly what the charge was for the CFD to respond to out of town calls.

“The only thing that can happen is if we stop responding to out of town calls,” said Viator.

When told by Fogleman that the council voted that the fire department would respond to such calls, Viator said “I don’t want to quit these responses, I want to get paid for them.”

“Jody I’m going to need those numbers before we can move on that,” responded Fogleman.

Mayor Jones intervened and said that this was a matter for committee meetings. He also suggested that everybody on the council do some research as to any other areas that could be cut and that he would be open to all suggestions.

“I don’t think that’s my job to do research,” replied Fogleman. “I think someone else should do that and present it to the council.”

After asking if anyone else wanted to approach the council, Dore said that he and Jones would ‘go back and discuss the issue with the other department heads.

Following the meeting Gibson said “we can’t afford to cut to cut our workforce. An across the board cut doesn’t do anything. Laying off officers and firemen affects the safety of the people.”

“I am encouraging all the constituents of Crowley to contact their councilmen and express their opinion on these cuts,” he added

“It is what it is,” stated Mayor Jones. “This is not just for police and firemen we’re cutting across the board. These cuts that have been started are entry.”

“This is not a good situation for anybody.”

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