Bogalusa City Council reluctantly passes 2024 operating budget, 2023 audit due June 30

Published 8:28 am Friday, June 28, 2024

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On Tuesday, June 18, The Bogalusa City Council voted 6-to-1 to pass the 2024 operating budget proposed by the mayor’s administration earlier this year. Council President Kenny Kellis was the only member who voted against the budget, though other members were clearly reluctant to vote in favor of it.

20 minutes after the meeting began, the council and mayor’s administration left the room for an executive session to discuss the salaries of court workers for the city. After about 45 minutes they returned, and had agreed to raise the salaries of three clerks who work for Judge David Merlin Duke. Duke thanked the mayor and the council, and said, “Order and justice can’t be quantified.”

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, Judge Duke and Mayor Truong exchanged press releases, each stating their position regarding the salaries of court workers. Duke pointed out that their salaries as listed in the proposed budget would be less than the starting wages for a laborer in the public works department, and Truong said that the cuts were part of a decrease in wages across all departments.

Just after the ordinance to accept the budget was put on the table, District B councilman Michael O’Ree moved to table the budget, citing multiple concerns and stating that “If you were seeing the numbers we are seeing, you wouldn’t pass the budget either.” In a recent public special call meeting to discuss the budget, O’Ree pointed out that in order to make the budget solvent, the last quarter of the year would have to bring in revenues of over three million dollars. “It’s going to be a good Christmas, I guess,” He said.

Councilwoman Shelby Temples seemed hesitant to cast her vote in favor of the budget, but in the end only Council President Kenny Kellis voted against it. When asked why during the public discussion of the meeting, he stated, “I just don’t like it and I’m entitled to vote how I see fit, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

The 2024 operating budget has been a point of contention amongst the elected officials of Bogalusa for most of the first half of this year, and has been revised at least 5 times since it was first proposed. Lacking official numbers from the 2022 closeout that are currently incomplete, it is difficult to know exactly how much money the city has to spend.

The mayor’s administration has provided estimated fund balances in place of these hard numbers, which the Louisiana Legislative Auditors board said would suffice in order to pass a budget. They assured the council that they have full authority to vote against any budget that they aren’t comfortable with, and that Louisiana Budget Law may hold government officials legally responsible for spending money that they do not have.

Mayor Truong implored the council to speak their minds during the meeting, stating “If you have information, let us address them right now. I’m sick of the insinuations, there is no information that the public isn’t privy to.”

Councilwoman Tamira Smith stated after the budget was passed, “We all sit in on the budget meetings. Mr. Bailey is the expert and we don’t try to micromanage, but if you knew the real numbers you would roll over on the floor.” She also stated that “Mr. Bailey said that the numbers are still a mess, and that he can still play with the numbers as we move forward.”

During Public remarks before the vote, one citizen asked the council to “Do what you know is right, don’t let bullies move you in any direction.” After the budget passed, he said, “I could see on your faces that some of you were voting against what you know is right, everyone here could see it.”

The budget vote comes just days before the 2023 closeout and audit are due to the Louisiana Legislative Auditors Board. Failure to do so could result in the city of Bogalusa being placed back on the non-compliance list. The mayor and his administration have assured citizens that those closeouts won’t take as long, because they have been diligently keeping records in preparation for that audit since he took office in January of last year.