PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 23, 2013

PA mayor troubled by budget process

Council approves $62.3 million budget

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

— Port Arthur City Council approved a $62.3 million budget for the new fiscal year Monday, but not before the city’s mayor voiced disapproval at the way it was presented, and cast the lone dissenting vote.

The new budget was first presented on Sept. 3, then followed by a series of three workshop sessions where department heads made a case for their operational needs for the coming year.

During those sessions, Council expressed desires to make changes to the budget, such as the addition of employee pay raises, new employee positions, or additional money for infrastructure repairs.

The initial proposed budget figures, which were described as “fluid,” changed after each workshop to reflect the modifications made by Council.

At Monday’s meeting, City Council was not presented with a detailed new budget — a fact that Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince said found troubling.

A week and a half ago, Prince asked for an up-to-date detailed budget, but none was provided by the time Council was to vote on the measure Monday.

“The budget was poorly presented to Council,” Prince said.  “We have required a full budget, but have not been able to get one, so I cannot vote on something I am not comfortable with.”

In year’s past, Prince said the Council has been provided with a full budget that included accurate detailed expenses for each department.

“You should not have to do guess work in the budget process,” Prince said.

During a break, and at the direction of Prince, the Council was presented with a budget synopsis containing the latest changes, but not detailed by department.

And, then Council made additional changes, adding another three employee positions to those already included in the proposed budget.

To fund the budget, City Council on Monday approved a 79 cent tax rate per $100 valuation, the same as last year’s.

Included in the new budget is a 3 percent pay raise for all employees, both civil and non-civil.

Among the added positions is a new parks and recreation director, a municipal court warrant officer, and two new police department employees: One in support and the other in administration.

Police Chief Mark Blanton said the new positions would alleviate about $96,000 in overtime pay.  Currently, the department is having to pull an employee from dispatch to help with electronic equipment repairs.

“I have one person who does IT work and he cannot do it by himself, so I had to pull a dispatcher with similar training,” Blanton said.

Both positions were recommended in the Mercer Report, he said.

The new warrant officer is also expected to provide extra security in the courtroom.

In the water and sewer department, a treatment plant operator and treatment plant operator trainee were added along with $500,000 in professional services to begin addressing major leaks in the city’s water system.

Not included in the new budget is a proposed $5 readiness to serve fee on water and sewer bills initially proposed by City Manager Floyd Johnson. The new fee was proposed as a way to whittle down the city’s projected $4.4 million loss in revenue during the coming fiscal year. The charge would have generated about a million, but was taken off the table after some council members balked at passing that charge onto customers.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

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