Mayor: Council’s actions Tuesday were ‘invalid’

Published 4:26 am Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Bogalusa City Council passed three resolutions Tuesday night to put tax renewals on the ballot during the Dec. 8 runoff election, but Mayor Wendy Perrette said the council did not follow proper procedures and Tuesday’s actions will likely need to be rescinded.

The resolutions introduced and passed would add the following measures to the December ballot:

  • Re-dedicate 12.5 percent of an existing 1-percent city sales tax, with the stipulation that the 12.5 percent would only be used for the purpose of “paying retirement and pension benefits to the City of Bogalusa Employees Retirement System (COBERS).” It was estimated this would put $272,000 per year toward COBERS.
  • Re-dedicate an existing 3 mills of property tax, which had been scheduled to end in 2018, and stipulate that it would only be used for COBERS. It was estimated this would put $210,000 per year toward COBERS.
  • Re-dedicate 50 percent of the Industrial Park Dedicated Fund tax, which is already being collected, toward COBERS. It was estimated this would put $270,000 per year toward COBERS.

The three resolutions were the work of the finance committee, which is composed of council members Gloria Kates, Doug Ritchie and Tamira Smith.

However, Perrette told The Daily News on Friday afternoon that the city council jumped the gun.

“The council’s resolutions are invalid and will not be acceptable to the state of Louisiana,” she said. “They did not use our CPAs or our accountants to check these numbers. These appear to have been done on their own, pieced together like a collage of different things — possibly from the Internet.

“I don’t know what the right word is, but they got the cart ahead of the horse. Nobody at the city recommended this particular action; I only gave some general guidance about what is required when calling for elections.”

Ritchie also spoke to The Daily News on Friday afternoon and said that the finance committee is aware that some of the language needs to be cleaned up before the resolutions go on the December ballot. However, he stated that the resolutions themselves are legitimate.

“I kind of had an idea that they might not be in the right form, but we were in a hurry to get something done,” Ritchie said. “We wanted to show (the State Legislative Auditor’s Office) that there were people who were working on this problem.”

Ritchie said that he, Kates and Smith recently visited the State Legislative Auditor’s Office in Baton Rouge and met with representatives there.

“We showed them what we were working on,” he said. “They were very excited and impressed that somebody could come up with a plan that would work, so quickly.”

Perrette said Friday that she had concerns about the direction of the meeting Tuesday, but decided not to say anything at the time.

“The meeting is a council meeting; it’s not the mayor’s meeting,” she said. “I didn’t want to get in a fuss about something.”

Perrette said that city administrators and legal professionals are looking at the language of the resolutions to determine what will need to change.

“I taught preK-4 and it’s like I used to always tell the kids about scissors — cutting hair is for the professionals,” she said. “There are professionals who draft resolutions like these. You can’t just copy-and-paste this stuff from the Internet.”

Perrette said that she understood the council members had good intentions and wanted to fix the city’s problem with under-funding of the COBERS program. But she noted that their actions were not done properly.

“I understand that their intentions were meant well, but they went about it the wrong way,” she said. “We are working on the hard numbers, and we’re working with our professionals and lawyers, to ensure that we don’t have to raise your taxes.

“The numbers that the council presented Tuesday night are not, at this point, confirmed hard numbers from the professionals. What took place Tuesday was a waste of an hour and a half. Everything that was done has to be rescinded, because it was not lawful.”

However, Ritchie stated Friday that the city’s tax and bond attorney, David Wolf, had already reviewed the resolutions’ language and its completed form would be ready for the runoff election.

“This will help us to fix COBERS without raising any new taxes or asking for any more money from our citizens,” he said. “It might not stop the hemorrhaging completely, but it will slow it to a trickle.”