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City Council approves 2015 budget

By a unanimous vote, the Bogalusa City Council approved the city budget for 2015.

The 2015 budget projects a 2 percent growth in the General Fund for ad valorem taxes to $2,203,980. Sales taxes are also projected 2 percent higher at $3,315,000.

As for salaries for personnel, the budget calls for a 9.4 percent cut. While salaries for the Administration and Finance Department dropped nearly $30,000 from the last approved budget, other departments saw an increase. Salaries for the Mayor’s Office, for example, increased by nearly $10,000 to slightly more than $93,000. Pay for Police Department also had a slight increase of 1.7 percent to $1,216,930. That is up from the last adopted budget’s $1,198,880.

The same can’t be said for the Fire Department. That department is projected to have a 6.1 percent decrease in salaries. It went from $1,062,630 to the proposed $997,440.

Salaries for Public Works employees also fall from $745,900 to a projected $727,820, a 2.4 percent cut.

“We laid off about 15 people. More than that have left.” City Administrator Jerry Bailey said. “At least three firemen left because they found a better job. They found more money.”

Bailey said overtime pay for employees was scaled back.

“The good news to that is overtime was cut back, but not like we wanted because Civil Service and union rules came into play.”

Bailey said supplies were cut, and the three prison teams charged with cleaning up the city in Public Works was scaled back to one crew.

“Public Works is at its lowest staff ever since I’ve been here,” Bailey said. “It’s down from 43 to 27 employees. It cost the city $50,000 a year for one prison crew. Public Works is taking the brunt. The priority around here since I’ve been here has been public safety.”

Bailey said the 2014 retirement for regular city employees was $334,520. He said he added another $250,000 to that account for 2015.

“I’ve been asked if this budget was realistic,” Bailey said. “The way things are going, at first you’re not going to see a dent in anything. It will take a year to see anything.”

The Council also approved an ordinance authorizing Mayor Charles Mizell to contract with Susan Stewart to operate the Deli in Cassidy Park. Stewart owns and operates Pleasant Hill Produce Market on Avenue F.

Three ordinances were introduced Tuesday night. All three will be voted on at the next meeting on Dec. 16.

The first ordinance authorizes Mizell to contract with low bidder D.M. Bass Inc. regarding the Austin Street improvements.

Secondly, a proposed ordinance authorizes Mizell to contract with low bidder Grady Crawford Construction Co. Inc. for the 2013 Louisiana Community Development Block Grant Water Distribution System Improvements in the Terrace area.

The third ordinance authorizes the city to retain CPA Robert A. Neilson for professional accounting services.

During department head reports, Personnel Director sandy Bloom said the city is pursuing two grants. She said the City has applied for a Brownfields Assessment Grant. The grant is intended to assess former businesses that might have had contaminated soil. Bloom said the city is focusing on the Terrace area, which once had an iron foundry. She said the city received a Local Government Assistance Program Grant. That is to assist cities and parishes take care of projects.

“We intend to work on the old library building,” Bloom said. “The past year, we received $25,000 for that grant.”

Bailey said the city’s sales tax collections are rising.

“Our sales taxes are up 3.2 percent from last year through October,” Bailey said. “We’ve collected $189,885 this month. It’s trending upward. We hope it keeps that same velocity.”

Recreation Department Director Landon Tims said his department has received permission to begin work on a Recreational Trails Grant. Funds from the grant will be for a three-mile walking track to connect Cassidy Park with Goodyear Park.

Tims said upcoming events in Cassidy Park include the Museums of Cassidy Park and Barbecue on March 21; the Gospel Festival on March 28 and the annual Easter Egg Hunt on April 4.

As out-going mayor, Mizell said he is looking forward to more free time. Wendy Perrette takes over for Mizell in January.

“As we move forward with the transition, I’m getting excited about it myself,” Mizell said. “I’m looking forward to the newness and youth in here. This has been a great Council to work with. I never could remember a Council that was more in tune with what we were doing.”

Mizell closed his remarks by reading Jim Metcalf’s poem “Some Distant Star.” The poem talked about challenges and goals and the joys along the journey.