Interpreting the East Baton Rouge Parish city budget is challenging and time-consuming.  This 485 page read is no J. K. Rowling novel, and I think it is safe to say that few have read it in its entirety.

The most important part of the city parish budget is the organizational chart showing the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish at the top.  As a resident and taxpayer, you are the one that the top three entities report to, which include:  the Mayor-President, the Metro Council and the Judicial Branch.  These are elected officials who are sworn in to office, and serve at your pleasure.

Next are the vision and mission statements, emphasis, goals, strategic initiatives, and budget process.  Then, we get into the real meat of the budget with detailed charts, graphs and financial reports indicating the sources of income and how dollars your tax dollars are spent. 

The general fund consists of 40% of the city parish budget.  This is signficant since 78.8% of that income depends upon taxes including sales and use tax, property taxes, gross receipts tax and other taxes including gaming proceeds.  The report indicates a $5 million reduction in business taxes, licenses and permits and interest rates.  This budget presentation comes from the same individuals who informed us the recession was not affecting the Red Stick.

Mayor-President Kip Holden joined hands with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) to the tune of $500,000 annually for economic development services for the Red Stick.  Each year the annual Canvas Trip is made by community leaders and politicians to cities that Holden and BRAC feel we should pattern ourselves after.  A puzzling addition to the budget is an additional $150,000 in business development support.  This is cause for concern since taxpayers were told that the contract with BRAC would replace any need for city-parish spending  or increase in services and manpower towards economic development.

When comparing the budget and planning process of the cities we have visited to the EBRP budget, some enlightening facts are revealed.  For instance, the city of Austin, hailed as the most desired city to pattern the Red Stick after indicates some progressive budgetary moves.

Austin indicates a major reduction in their annual budget for 2010 as well as a major change in 2009 indicating all city merit raises decreased from 4% to 2.5%.  There is a lesson to be learned here from a city we hold in high regard.

No salary increases for civil employees in 2010 and suspension of service incentive pay are also shown on Austin’s budget.  Additionally, cuts were made in their general fund including deferred contractual salary increases for police and EMS, eliminating vacant positions permanently, reducing overtime budgets, and adding gate fees for city-wide festivals.  Austin’s budget indicates a reserve of 11% compared to less than half of that reserve for the Red Stick.

More importantly is the involvement of Austin’s community in the budgetary process including transparency and collaboration.  Austin holds citizen focus groups, town halls, teen town halls, taxpayer surveys, a budget hotline and email program to make recommendations or question budgetary concerns. 

Additionally, Austin has implemented a Dollars & Sense employee input program including those who are not department heads or supervisors.  The EBRP budget indicates the only input that is allowed is the Mayor, the Chief Administrative Officer, Metro Council and department heads.  It begs the question.

Ultimately Austin’s goal is to be the “most livable city” in the country.  Nashville, seems to get it as well with beginning their entire process by referring to their metro city budget as The Citizens BudgetRefreshing.

Back at the ranch, EBRP’s budget has some major concerns for citizens to consider including the vast list of consultants which comprises 19.4% of expenditures.  It appears that consultant fees total $54 million.  Wow!

Mayor-President Kip Holden is also banking that our citizens will pay a visit to dump their hard-earned dollars at our two downtown casinos proven by the projected increase in revenue by an additional million dollars for the general fund.  I do not think you will find anyone who believes this will  improve our quality of life in the Red Stick.  Banking on the gaming addictions of our citizens is a bad move.

Increased spending is projected for a 10% increase in health care for city-parish employees, a $100,000 expenditure to ensure our local census is accurate, and a mirage of additional projects.  We have nearly $3 million allotted for EBRP vehicle purchases. 

We spend $340,000 on what is referred to as quality of life issues including fairs and festivals.  We also spend an additional $61,000 on hosting the bowling congress.  I wasn’t aware that improved our quality of life in EBRP.  In comparison, we give only $23,000 to the local Food Bank.

In 2009 we purchased a helicopter for the Baton Rouge Police Department vs. more boots on the ground.  I suppose that compares to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who criticized former Sheriff Greg Phares for the purchase of a boat, purchasing a second boat which rumor has it was named after Gautreaux’s wife.  I guess that indicates Gautreaux’s attack was nothing more than a political public relations campaign.

As I began, the 485-page budget is an interesting read, yet a handful of taxpayers will take the time to peruse it and understand the spending mentality of Mayor-President Kip Holden.  One recommendation is that every consultant contract be identified; some departments detail the companies involved, others provide no details.

Ultimately, we need to look hard at our spending.  Carl Redmond of The Advocate might be better served to study the budget and investigate the mirage of consultants and their ties to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

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