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Independence next budget ready for vote

by Connor Raborn reporter@hammondstar.com

Last fiscal year's budget in Independence bore the brunt of $200,000 repairs to the town water and sewer systems.

Only about $30,000 of that had been accounted for in the budget. Barring a similar unexpected expense to the town government, the coming year's budget is in good shape, said Mayor Angelo Mannino on Friday.

Overall, he said the income and expenses laid out in the budget are similar to last year.

"It's a good budget. It's keeping things on track. Hopefully nothing happens," Mannino said. "It's a thin line with this budget. You've got so much coming in, and you've got so much going out. If something happens, it kind of throws a monkey wrench."

Independence Board of Aldermen held a special meeting late last month to discuss the budget and formally introduce it. The board will vote on whether to accept the budget at the regular meeting on Tuesday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m.

The special meeting was called so the budget could be finalized in time for the June meeting vote. That way, if the budget passes, it makes it through in time for the town to avoid being cited by the state legislature. The budget was accepted late the past two years; a third strike would result in the town having to go before a legislative hearing.

"If we need to amend it later we can," Mannino said. "My main concern is getting it through, and then we won't have to go to Baton Rouge."

Independence Police Department will receive more money this year. The town has budgeted $128,000 to be given to Police Chief Frank Edwards III to disperse to his officers as a raise. An additional $7,000 was included for the Independence Fire Department to buy new CPR machines.

Mannino said he hopes the state will allocate some capital outlay money for the town, as he would like to replace the roof on city hall and add more bathrooms and sleeping quarters to the fire station.

Even though Mannino and the board can't predict if the budget will again have to be amended to account for major town repair projects, Mannino was optimistic Friday that the town is catching up in some regards.

"Over the past three years, we've improved a lot. We had $800,000 to pay into the retirement. There was $200,000 of unpaid bills we got left with," he said. "Just with those two things - that was a lot of money. It takes time to build it back up. It took an effort from everybody."

"I think people are satisfied with the way things are going. I don't think they're satisfied with that water bill," he added, referring to the recent $10 increase and his voted-down veto. "All in all I think things are going well."

Also on the agenda for Tuesday night's meeting are the vote on the donation of the police department's surplus radios to Tangipahoa Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1, introduction of salary for a part time clerk and discussion of Flag Day by Richard Ludwig II of American Legion Post 109.