Budget remains in black post council shuffle

Hammond City Council meets Tuesday night to hear public comment on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Following the hearing, the council discussed, amended and passed a balanced budget.

After a two-part budget work session and nearly five hours of deliberation Tuesday night, Hammond City Council has agreed on a balanced budget for the new fiscal year, beginning July 1.

The city’s five-person council amended the administration’s proposed budget to add $1,098,700 worth of projects and other requests. Despite multiple split votes for specific changes, the council unanimously agreed to pass the budget as amended.

Major approvals include reserving $600,000 in a project fund for police salary raises and $200,000 in a project fund for all employee salary raises; fast tracking drainage and sidewalk infrastructure projects; and addressing city sewer problems with $800,000 worth of sewer system evaluation surveys to find the problems, $2.2 million worth of sewer rehabilitation originally planned for 2023, and $100,000 for a sewer consultant.

After slipping into the red momentarily while adding projects to the budget, the council decided to remove a major project, which brought the city back into the black. The council shelved, at least for this coming year, $1.3 million in lift station improvements in District 1 near the airport.

With a maximum of $1,685,239 available between sales tax and the general funds, the council’s additions that totaled $1,098,700 left the budget within balance, according to the city administrator.

Sewer

The council unanimously agreed to combine funds for sewer system evaluation surveys and sewer rehabilitation projects and use the $400,000 between the two toward sewer system evaluation surveys.

The council will use the $2.6 million of stimulus funding toward projects that will help alleviate the city’s problematic sewer system. Of those funds, $400,000 will go toward more sewer system evaluation surveys, and $2.2 million will go toward sewer rehabilitation projects that are being moved up from 2023.

A $1,385,000 project for lift station and force main upgrades at HAEIDD/ HiPark, Airport lift station and Woodscale were removed from this year’s capital improvements. Councilmembers Devon Wells, Sam DiVittorio and Kip Andrews voted to push it back until 2023-2024 fiscal year.

The council, minus Councilman Steve Leon, voted to advance to this coming year three lift station improvement projects that were not scheduled to be tackled until 2022-2023. Those projects include the lift stations at Lawrence Drive and Blackburn, $100,000; Lincoln Park, $140,000; and Whitmar, $150,000.

Wells’ request to allocate $100,000 towards a sewer consultant won approval.

Re-prioritizing

The council unanimously agreed to add sidewalks from Washington to JW Davis as a capital project for the upcoming year. The project is budgeted for $80,000.

Phase 1 of the MC Moore Road drainage widening project has been moved up from 2025. The council agreed unanimously to allocate $220,000 for this project this coming fiscal year.

Phase 1 of the Western Avenue drainage project has been moved up from 2023. The council is allocating $64,000 to start the project this coming fiscal year. Only Leon voted against moving up the project.

Drainage improvement projects for Ruth Drive, Mitchell Drive and Pine Drive, which were scheduled to occur in two phases over 2023 and 2024, will move forward as one project this coming year. The council unanimously agreed to allocate $232,000 towards these improvements.

An allocation of $175,000 has been added to the budget for Jackson Park’s basketball cover. DiVittorio, Wells and Andrews voted in favor of adding this as a capital project while council members Carlee Gonzales and Leon voted against.

Non-profits

The council cracked down on its late entries of requests from non-profits. Only organizations that were previously funded by the city received funding again.

Representatives from non-profits that received no prior funding from the city asked for better clarification and opening the pot of funds. The council discussed changing to a pot of funds split equally next time.

The council agreed to Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center allocation of additional $10,000 to help with impact during the pandemic. The center’s total allocation for this year is $90,000. Leon, Wells and DiVittorio voted in favor. Gonzales and Andrews voted against.

African American Heritage Museum will receive $50,000, as opposed to the $35,000 that was originally budgeted for this year. Only Gonzales voted against it.

Departments

The council:

Removed the entire $100,000 capital project request from the recreation department, which had requested their initial $100,000 for a storage building be reduced to $50,000 and swapped out for a sunshade for the pool. Wells, DiVittorio and Andrews voted in favor. Leon and Gonzales voted against.

Granted the data processing department’s request for more funding for park cameras. Wells, DiVittorio and Andrews voted in favor of allocating $35,000 more; Leon and Gonzales voted against.

Granted the city’s housing advisory committee request for $50,000 to hire a housing study consultant. Only Leon voted no.

Approved DiVittorio’s request to add $60,000 for resurfacing, picnic tables and benches as a capital request. Andrews, DiVittorio and Wells voted in favor. Gonzales and Leon voted against.

Salary changes

The council:

Allocated $600,000 for Hammond Police Department salary raises. Allocation plans for pay raises will need to be brought back to the council for approval. Gonzales, Andrews and Leon voted in favor. DiVittorio and Wells, who voted against, stressed that they wanted to be fair to all employees and wanted a salary study first. A $100,000 salary study is budgeted for this year.

Unanimously approved DiVittorio’s request to set aside $200,000 in a project fund for all city employees for salaries and raises.

Unanimously agreed to increase the personnel director’s salary budget to $85,000 and remove the $6,000 auto allowance.

Increased the building department director’s salary to $100,000, removed the position’s $6,000 car allowance and added $40,000 for a new building department vehicle.

Unanimously agreed to remove the council clerk’s $6,000 auto allowance.

Other

The council:

Unanimously agreed to increase the 7th Ward Marshal’s office budget by $80,000, bringing its allocation from the city up to $400,000.

Added $110,00 for a capital project to add sidewalks from Edwin Neill to Mooney. Wells, DiVittorio and Andrews voted in favor.

Approved $150,000 for rehabilitation of the canal on Corbin and Florida streets and $100,000 for rehabilitation of the canal on Skinner and Natchez. Gonzales and Leon voted against both.

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