Layoffs coming; city deficit more than a half million

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A week after financial discrepancies were discovered during Bogalusa’s final audit of 2013, Mayor Charles Mizell said the shortfall between the amounts budgeted and the expenditures for the year now appears to be more than half a million dollars.

Because of this, he said, layoffs are imminent.

Mizell read a prepared statement during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and added that corrective action is already in progress.

“We have been at a significant disadvantage because of the failure of our financial accounting system in May,” he said. “We now have some numbers, and we have been working feverishly to understand and verify these figures. Based on our unaudited working figures we believe that we will have a $635,000 shortfall across all accounts.”

Mizell later said he could only make decisions based on the information he had before him, and he had none from May through September 2013.

Over the past week, the administration and department heads have worked together to identify areas where significant reductions can be made that will have “a positive effect on the bottom line and little impact on services,” he said.

“We’ve already taken steps for a $759,000 reduction in this year’s budget,” Mizell said.

But the rumors of impending layoffs have proven true.

“We have worked to minimize the impact on employees, but there will be some reduction in force,” he said. “We will work with those affected to make sure they can access all of the resources available to them.”

Mizell later declined to reveal whether the reduction includes members of the police and fire departments, a concern voiced by members of the public during the meeting. In response to those concerns he said he’d love to have increased numbers of police and firefighters, but that “we’ve got to pay them.”

Mizell said he wants to contact the individuals who will be laid off before making their names and positions public.

“Out of courtesy to the affected parties, I think this should only be announced when the final positions have been determined,” he said, noting that it would happen before the weekend.

Looking to the future, Mizell said the city’s new accounting system enables all department heads to understand their current status and to take corrective action at the first sign of overspending.

He pointed to the recent receipt of a fish kill settlement check from International Paper and said that funding will be used to clear lots that are believed to contain asbestos, and that the city will continue to progress, despite the current financial setback.

“We have made some significant investments in our city and in our parks, and I believe you will agree with me that we are moving in a positive direction,” Mizell said. “We will be vigilant going forward, and work to identify other cost reductions and revenue enhancements.”