Working on the City’s Budget
Successful budgeting is a matter of give and take
A budget is a plan. It takes thought and consideration on the front end. It takes communication with all the stakeholders. After that, it usually takes some negotiating to ensure the highest priorities are accounted for.
That’s where Mayor Tom Arceneaux is with the city of Shreveport’s 2024 fiscal budget.
“We had a number of principles that we thought were very important for the budget,” he said. “The two main ones had to do with a current-fiscal-year balanced budget, meaning starting the year with an operating reserve of about $25 million and ending the year with an operating reserve of about $25 million, so that we don’t plan to spend more money than we take in in 2024. The second thing was to rightsize the budget.”
Rightsizing the city budget is a bit like adjusting a household budget when you set aside money than you need for a vacation, and an unbudgeted medical expense pops up.
“In prior budgets, we had budgeted for every authorized position, whether we thought we could fill those positions or not,” Arceneaux said. “The result of that was to park money into various departments. We decided that was not the way we wanted to approach the budget.”
Examining the open positions was one opportunity to adjust specific parts of the budget.
Arceneaux used the police department as an example.
“We are 150 police officers short,” he said.
“We were budgeting for those 150 police officers, even though we knew that our best result would be not making that number higher as opposed to being able to hire those people.
“There’s a little bit of that in the fire department. If you look at the numbers, it looks like there is a reduction, but in fact there is not a reduction in those numbers.”
The mayor added that the city is committed to doing what would be necessary to hire more officers.
“We stand ready to find the money within the budget,” Arceneaux said. “If we get 150 new police officers, we’ll find a way to finance those. But it is highly unlikely that we will be able to get that kind of increase.”
Regarding the city’s first responders, Arceneaux said the proposed budget addresses police officer and firefighter pay.
“Those are two areas where we are having trouble finding and keeping our employees,” he said. “And it is a top priority for the citizens of Shreveport. Those firefighters and police officers already are getting a 2% state-mandated cost of living increase. We are proposing a 3% increase above that.”
The proposed budget also includes efforts to retain and recruit officers. One is incentive pay for officers who achieve an educational attainment level, physical fitness or firearms proficiency level. Those officers could make an additional $3,000 a year.
The budget also includes a new package for recruits. Under the proposal, new recruits will receive $3,600 when they complete the academy. Those officers would receive another $3,600 after a specified length of service, one or two years.
“That is the difference between the base pay we provide and the pay you get with supplemental pay,” he said. “So we are basically going to pay the supplemental pay before they are eligible for it from the state.”
Arceneaux said those are the big items on the budget, but the budget also addresses pay issues for other city employees.
“We also have had management issues with two different pay scales,” he said. “When the 13% raise was placed in, there were people who were hired who did not get that and were paid less. We are folding that into a single pay plan to make it easier to recruit new people and to equalize what people are being paid to do the same job.”
The mayor said the budget also includes merit increases of up to 4% for people who perform their jobs well.
The proposed budget expenditures prompted the administration to look at raising additional revenue for some of the initiatives, including the possibility of high water bills in the city.
“To do all of that, we felt the need to find some additional revenue,” Arceneaux said. “That primarily comes in the form of reducing the subsidy of the general fund to the solid waste enterprise fund. We currently subsidize all but $7 a month. We are planning to propose to the council that that fee go up to $10 a month.”
That solid waste enterprise fund is paid for through water bills. Arceneaux said the $3 increase would raise about $3 million.
Other proposals to raise revenue include small increases in EMS fees and building permit fees, he said.
Successful budgeting often is a matter of give and take. In setting priorities for his budget, Arceneaux included a few option packages in his proposal.
Arceneaux said the budget has to be completed by Dec. 15. The city council will review the budget and make its suggestions and amendments.
“They may have different viewpoints,” Arceneaux said. “They do not have to choose from the options that I have put out there. They can come up with their own options. We will negotiate with them and come up with a balanced budget for the year 2024.”
Committee collects input
The Citizens Capital Improvements Committee recently completed four listening sessions to collect input from the community on projects residents would like to see the city take on.
Arceneaux has attended all of those meetings as a spectator, not a participant.
“I sit in the back of the room and listen,” he said. “I did not want to dominate or even appear to dominate any of the meetings.”
He said he is pleased with what he heard at the meetings.
“Fortunately, it seems a lot of the things people are saying they would like us to do are things that we already thought we might include in the package,” he said. “They have a lot of good ideas. The real issue will be when they (the committee) make their wish list. It’s going to be longer than what we feel we want to go out and ask the people to pay for. Particularly in the areas of streets and drainage. That will begin a priority process that will be challenging for the committee but very important to the community.”