LC Council approves fiscal budget after cuts

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The City of Lake Charles managed to shave nearly $700,000 from it's proposed budget. After giving the numbers another look the City Council unanimously approved the budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2011, but not without expressing concerns.

The proposed budget was presented to the council two weeks ago. It included at projected $61,000,000 general fund and $20,000,000 budget. At that time the Council was not prepared to approve. Since then the City of Lake Charles has managed to shave an additional $686,500 off the budget.

"We went back to every department and asked them to take a look and see if there were any line items they could do without. It came from a little bit from each division. A couple a thousand here and a couple of thousand there," said Karen Harrell, Lake Charles City Finance Director.

The following are the General Fund departmental expenditures that were amended to come up with the $686,500:

General Government Dept reduction of $30,900; amended to $2,963,795

Finance Dept reduction of $18,000; amended to $1,560,283

Human Resources Dept reduction of $5,000; amended to $326,315

Fire Dept reduction of $67,600; amended to $13,785,674

Police Dept reduction of $159,000; amended to $16,604,478

Public Works Dept reduction of $175,000; amended to $14,700,469

Planning and Development Dept reduction of $82,000; amended to $2,005,980

General Services Dept reduction of $69,000; amended to $4,234,969

Transfer to other funds reduction of $85,000; amended to $4,610,325

Coming up with the budget has not been easy. Fortunately amid all the cuts there will be no loss of services or jobs.

"I just want to go on the record and say that this council is supporting the fact that none of our employees will have to be laid off and no one will lose their jobs," said Rodney Geyen, LC City Council.

Despite their best efforts, the City will still be operating with a shortfall for a third year.

"The important point to remember is this does not eliminate the operating deficit we have," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. "This is just a projection. It could end up being a lot lower."

Managing to not tap into the reserve fund the projected deficit is $2,900,000 down from the original $3,500,000. The deficit includes the final $600,000 installment of the Lake Charles Firefighters Retirement fund lawsuit.

"Right now it seems like it's being cut almost to the bone. I'm just wondering about the longterm. Can anyone tell me what we are doing for the longterm," asked Luvertha August, LC City Council.

Harrell explained they will continue to operate in a cautious mode structuring revenues with expenditures. She said important decisions have been made.

"We have made some very hard decisions to try and stay on top of this. In this current fiscal budget we eliminated 35 vacant positions," explained Harrell.

Looking forward other council members would like consolidate services and get a hold on the increased retirement funds for Lake Charles firefighters and police, which accounts for more than 50% of the expenditures.

"Until we get a handle on the continuing escalation of the retirement costs, we are going to have to revisit this problem year after year," said Stuart Weatherford, LC City Council.

"I look forward to working with you this next year and making some fundamental changes to where maybe we can streamline and avoid duplication of some things," said Mark Eckard, LC City Council Vice President.

Others on the Council said focus on the here and now and are ready to increase revenues with Lakefront development.

"People bought into the bond issue to get a lot of these projects going and it's time to get a lot of these things into the pipeline and get a return on investment back to the taxpayers," said Marshall Simien, LC City Council.

"We just have to find a way to get these developers to want to come in. They're here and are waiting to do it. The problem is our system is too slow. It really takes a long time to go through our process," said Dana Carl Jackson, LC City Council.

Copyright 2011 KPLC. All rights reserved.