Council speaks out on budget battle
The City of Crowley is currently operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget due to failure to adopt a new fiscal year plan. The city had until Sept. 1 to adopt a budget.
In light of that, The Post-Signal circulated a questionnaire to all council members and Mayor Tim Monceaux. No responses were received from the Mayor, Vernon “Step” Martin or Sammy Reggie.
Of the responses received all council members are in agreement of the negative situation for the city.
Alderman Jeff Cavell, chairman of the Revenue and Finance committee, said, “Situations like this are never good nor should they be seen as good, which is why the urgency to correct the problem should be a priority.”
Mayor Pro-tem Steven Premeaux responded, “It certainly is not a good thing for the city.”
Alderman Clint Cradeur said, “This absolutely does create a black eye for the city. This should have never happened. The budget should have been submitted to the council well before the mayor became ill.”
Alderman Byron Wilridge echoed the same sentiments, stating, “Yes, it is very much a black eye for the city of Crowley. We are an example of what not to do to other municipalities. We have an obligation to conduct business of the city of Crowley and do so in a timely matter.”
Alderman Brad Core responded, “Although operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget is not favorable to the city, it certainly creates a ‘black eye’ for the mayor and his administration’s ability.”
Alderman Lyle Fogleman also answered, “Absolutely!”
Alderwomen Kim Stringfellow noted, “The fact that our mayor can not complete a realistic, appropriate budget and present in to the council before the deadline of August 31, 2020, was indeed an embarrassment due to the length of time he had to complete it. It is one that I am hoping we do not repeat in the future.”
Many conversations have happened over the budget with council members sharing that they offered to help the mayor create a balanced budget. But they were all denied with the exceptions of Cavell and Premeaux, who eventually were allowed to work on the budget after deadline, by meeting with department heads to discuss their needs for the upcoming fiscal year.
Typically, the mayor creates a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the council approves it.
The council did not feel the Mayor had done his due diligence and refused to adopt his original budget.
The council was not provided with a budget until less than a month before deadline.
During this time, Mayor Monceaux was out of the office due to being hospitalized with COVID-19. The original budget presented to the council was prepared by the City Clerk Erin Cradeur with the mayor giving directions to make it similar to the previous year’s budget.
Asked who is to blame for the city operating on 50 percent of last years budget, the answers differed.
“Under the Lawrason Act the onus is completely on the Mayor to present his budget to the city council in a timely fashion for approval,” said Stringfellow. “There are state guidelines that should be upheld and taken into consideration.
“Last year was our first year as a new council/mayor team and I did indeed help with the mayor’s budget since it was clear that he had never completed one in the past. At that time I did offer advice and discussed the importance of the process and why it should not be taken lightly or delayed.
“The mayor became sick and was hospitalized with COVID-19 on July 29th. Past administrations have presented a first draft to their council by late June or early July. It is a general practice to prepare it at that time for deliberation by the council and input of departments. The short answer is any blameworthiness should fall on our mayor.”
“The Mayor is responsible,” he said. “On August 17th I offered to go in and meet with department heads and the city clerk to get a revised budget done before deadline but that was denied.”
Core explained, “Pursuant to the Lawrason Act, it is the mayor’s sole responsibility to develop and present his budget to the council in a timely manner for review. Legislative Auditor guidelines indicate a budget is to be presented to the council three to four months prior to the fiscal year-end for review.
“I inquired with the mayor about status of the upcoming budget during this timeframe (prior to his illness) and offered my assistance. However, my involvement has not been requested to date.
“The council was presented with a budget developed by the mayor’s staff two weeks prior to the August 31 deadline for adoption, which did not include required input from all department heads. I consider this a strong-arm attempt by the mayor to force budget approval.
“The mayor is solely responsible for this occurrence.”
Wilridge noted, “Yes. The mayor is the head of the city and the buck stops with him.”
Cavell said he feels it is the council’s fault.
“Even as a member of the board of alderman, I place the blame fully on the board,” he said. “We have a job to do and it is about time we do it and stop trying to do the job of the administration.
“President Harry S. Truman is known for a sign displayed while in office that read, ‘The Buck Stops Here.’ It was a promise that responsibility will not be passed on to anyone else.
“I’m here to say the board needs to adopt the same, with respect to promising acceptance of responsibility; to work with the administration so collectively as a city we can all be proud of what we have achieved not what or who we have destroyed.”
Other council members felt no one was to blame.
Premeaux stated, “I’m not putting blame on anyone, I’m more concerned with finding a resolution to the problem.”
Fogleman explained, “It is a simply the process until all budgetary issues are resolved.”
The questionnaire also asked the local elected officials to voice their opinions on the city operating at 50 budget of last year’s budget and what they see for the future.
“It isn’t about feelings; it is reality, especially with recent amounts of overtime our city workers have had to put in due to Hurricane Laura,” said Cavell. “Money gets used quickly. The city having to provide 100 percent output at 50 percent of accessibility to funding.
“I am always optimistic and hope the majority can put the city first knowing how unrealistic of a task it is to ask of our employees to continue to produce under these circumstances.”
Core said, “The city is currently required to operate at 50 percent of last year’s budget pursuant to the Lawrason Act due to the mayor’s failure to timely present the council with a credible budget in accordance with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s guidelines. Effectively, 50 percent of funding provides adequate revenues for the city to operate for a 6± month period.
“Last year, the council encouraged the mayor to engage a certified public accountant (CPA) to assist his administration with financial advice and direct involvement in the budgeting process. The city’s auditor also confirmed this recommendation. Against the council’s direction, the CPA did not have any direct involvement with the budget.
“I highly encourage the mayor to work with the council to establish an appropriate budget within this timeframe. Otherwise, a fiscal administrator will be assigned by the state Legislative Auditor to oversee the city’s financial operations.”
Wilridge responded, “I feel that it is poor planning for the city to be forced to operate at 50 percent of the budget because city hall could not produce a clear, transparent budget. This council has been asking for transparency since January 2019. The mayor gives us a last minute copy of the budget and expects us to just approve whatever he puts in front of us. We have a responsibility to the citizens of Crowley to do what is right for the city with their tax dollars.”
Stringfellow commented, “I feel that our city has its priorities out of place and that this is reflected in our spending. Our budget is rather high and 50 percent is not as detrimental as it sounds because it is used to fund up to six months, half of the year.
“If the mayor presents to the council a budget that reflects our priorities and vision for Crowley then I believe we may have a budget in the next few months.”
Cradeur stated, “Fifty percent of last years budget is $8,000,000. That should give the mayor time to submit a realistic budget that has input from the council and department heads. The future is entirely up to the mayor to work with the council to have a realistic and balanced budget.”
Premeaux’s response was, “I don’t like the City operating on a 50-percent budget. I do think a compromise is coming and the budget will be passed at next month’s meeting.”
Fogleman answered, “A budget will be adopted in the very near future ... the 50 percent allocation is of no threat to the city.”
Lastly, the board of aldermen and Mayor Monceaux were given the opportunity to offered any other information that they would like the public to know about the city of Crowley’s current state of affairs.
Those responses included:
Premeaux: “Our sales tax collections are up and I think our future is bright.”
Fogleman: “The city has experienced strong tax revenue gains over the past six months. There are a couple of major projects/developments in the very near future that will further boost Crowley’s economy. It is my opinion the city of Crowley is headed in the right direction.”
Cradeur: “The city’s current state of affairs are due to the lack of leadership, unwillingness to work with others, lack of communication and the lack of transparency with the council.”
Stringfellow: “ I would like for the public to know that the council is taking the situation seriously. We have a problem with the leadership in our city. Our mayor has an autocratic, non-transparent leadership style and this is reflected in the attitude of his council and his employees.
“I am eager to work with the mayor on many important issues. I would like a purposeful and meaningful vision for Crowley.
“I do not want to be mayor; I was elected and the voices of those who elected me are not being heard. The council is literally and figuratively locked out of city hall.”
Wilridge: “I would the public to know we are taking things seriously. We started this regime under the pretense that the mayor being a former city councilman, would be fair, transparent, willing to listen to his council and make decisions for the city as a whole. Instead he acts like a dictator.
“This entire council wants to work with the mayor for the betterment of our city. Instead he picks and chooses who he shares information with and includes in handling city business. We were elected to represent the voice of citizens in our communities and right now their voices are being stifled.”
Cavell: “Since the stated reason for these questions was to speak on the issue of the city working at 50 percent of last year’s budget, I would like to add that it took three votes before the majority even allowed the citizens their right to be heard on this matter. It isn’t until we have a public hearing and a motion along with a second to accept the budget when debate among the council is to take place officially.
“So to delay, as the majority has done, only cost the city time, money, and yet another certain finding by the legislative auditor. It is my prayer, as I alluded to earlier, that the board learn their jobs, execute their respective duties and work in unison with the administration for all of Crowley. Not just in name or a sound bite, but in action.”
Core: “Our city is experiencing unprecedented times resulting in much uncertainty throughout the community. We are very fortunate that our sales tax revenue has far exceeded expectations during the pandemic and should continue to remain strong from recovery efforts by those impacted by Hurricane Laura in need of housing, supplies, and essential needs.
“However, competent leadership is a must for our city to move forward through this pandemic and beyond. Such leadership requires transparency and a demonstrable willingness to work closely with the council.
“The council continues to aggressively address blighted property and encourages the mayor to adopt a more efficient process to restore our city’s desirability. Our Police Department needs additional officers to combat criminal activity and traffic violations. The city recently received an excellent Class 2 fire rating due to the dedicated efforts of our Fire Department. However, this rating cannot be maintained without replacement of laid-off firefighters and very dated equipment.
“My total desire as alderman is to represent constituents and utilize my many years of successful business experience to move our city forward collectively with the mayor and council. I am here to help!”