Mayor Perrette: Some cuts likely will be coming to city’s services

Published 4:08 am Saturday, February 2, 2019

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette told The Daily News that the city would have to make some hard decisions this year, after several revenue-generating tax referendums failed at the ballot box in 2018.

In April, Bogalusa city voters rejected a proposed 12-mill increase in property taxes, which would have been used to stabilize the city’s retirement benefits and pension system. The measure failed, with 78 percent of voters rejecting it.

In December, voters rejected a 3-mill property tax increase that would have also been used for the pension fund. This election was much closer, with 896 voting against the increase, and 868 voting for it.

In addition, voters approved for 12.5 percent of the city’s 1-percent sales and use tax to be used for the pension system. This is approximately $272,300 which will now go toward the pension system, but would have previously been used “for any lawful municipal purpose,” through the city’s General Fund.

Perrette said that the election results will definitely have an impact on the city’s budget, and cuts will have to be made.

“With the taxes failing, we’re going to have to make cuts,” she said.


Shelter shut down?

Perrette addressed rampant rumors that spread this past week, concerning the city’s animal shelter and that it was shutting down.

She said that the shelter was not closing at this particular time, but cautioned that there is no guarantee it will remain open the rest of the year.

Perrette said that her administration has always tried to maintain the shelter as a “no-kill” shelter, even though they are under no legal obligation to do so.

Bogalusa Police Chief Kendall Bullen noted that the law requires for the city to hold an animal for seven business days, to give the owner time to claim it. After that, it is legal to euthanize the animal, especially if the population at the shelter has become overcrowded.

However, Perrette said that the city has always used euthanization as a rare solution that is only employed in the case of animals that are rabid or extremely violent.

Thanks to the cooperation of groups like the Magnolia Chapter of the Humane Society, the shelter has been able to significantly lower the number of animals it puts to sleep, Perrette said.

In 2017, the city killed five dogs, and in 2018, just one dog was killed, according to the Magnolia Chapter and Perrette. Again, these were usually animals that were very dangerous.

Perrette noted that she has several dogs and cats at home, and helps to foster many others. She said that she is a “huge animal lover” and wants to do whatever is possible to prevent any domesticated animal from being put down.

She said that she was informed the kennel was full last Friday, and there were some dogs there who had not been adopted in over a year. An urgent call was put out to other shelters and agencies, and enough animals were picked up to prevent euthanization from being necessary.

However, Perrette noted that the city still has an enormous problem with stray animals, and the shelter will likely eventually fill up again.

“It’s probably the No. 2 complaint that I hear about, behind drugs,” she said. “It’s apparent that we have a lot of dog owners who are not being responsible.”


Layoffs could be coming, but would be last resort

Perrette and City Director of Administration Stacy Smith also confirmed that no city employees have lost their jobs as a direct result of the failed tax votes and subsequent budget crunch.

Perrette said that some positions have been lost through natural attrition — for example, when an employee retires and the position is not re-filled.

However, she noted that staffing cuts are “1000 percent a possibility.”

“We will be meeting with the state auditors on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. in Baton Rouge,” she said. “We’re going to go before a Fiscal Review Board, and they’re going to go over our finances. The state’s telling us that we’re going to have to make changes, and it’s likely coming from payroll.”

Smith said that payroll was 47 percent of all city expenditures in 2017, and 70.33 percent of the general fund budget specifically.

“You can nickel and dime all the small things like paper, pens and stuff like that,” she said. “But that’s not going to have an impact. The impact is payroll.”

Perrette said that she met last week with representatives from the State Legislative Auditor’s Office, and worked on a plan of action that will be presented at the Feb. 18 meeting in Baton Rouge.

“In our meeting (last week), we discussed it and they said we’re going to have to make these budgetary cuts,” she said.

Even so, Perrette said that cutting personnel would be the absolute last resort.

“I’m going to tell you now, I’ll close that dog shelter down any day of the week before I have to lose a fireman, or a policeman or any of those things,” she said. “We’re going to close those down (facilities like the animal shelter) if we have to, before a person loses their job and the means of feeding their family.”


Another tax referendum?

Perrette said that there is always a possibility the city council could ask for another tax on an upcoming ballot, but she believes the voters made their opinions clear in 2018.

“I believe at this point in time, the citizens of Bogalusa are tax-leery and tax-weary,” she said. “If we went before the taxpayers again, I would think that (any proposed tax increase) would have to be for a specific purpose, like public safety.”

Perrette also addressed citizens who ask why Bogalusa doesn’t have the amenities of communities like Covington and Mandeville.

“Don’t say you want it to be like St. Tammany unless you’re willing to pay (taxes) like St. Tammany does,” she said. “You can’t just come up with money. There’s no magic tree in the backyard.”

The mayor acknowledged that the city of Bogalusa may be in rough financial shape, but is still doing far better than many other communities that the Legislative Auditor’s Office is investigating.

According to The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Jeanerette and St. Joseph already have fiscal administrators placed by the state. Sterlington will also be discussed along with Bogalusa at the Feb. 18 meeting, and Clarence, Clayton, Clinton and Melville could also be added to the list of cities with state-appointed fiscal administrators.

Perrette said that she does not currently think the state will “take over” the city by appointing a fiscal administrator.

“Everybody’s saying that the state’s taking over,” she said. “But they’ve told me this to my face and on the phone a million times — ‘Look Wendy, we’re here to help you.’ They’re here to help us. These are not favorable decisions.

“It doesn’t matter who is mayor, these things are going to have to be done.”

Perrette was re-elected for a second term in December, and noted that her administration was already working on a plan and can now just continue what they had been developing.

“We were already working on these issues, and have a relationship with the state on these issues,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing that we’re able to continue. It’s not favorable, and it’s not fun.

“I can’t base these decisions on politics, or on an election or a threat of a recall or anything like that. I’ve got to do the right thing.”