Budget approved by Metro Council disappoints city workers

Photo provided by staff
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 8:00am

The city-parish has more than $800 million to spend next year.

The Metro Council passed a budget Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting.

It only needed a couple minutes to hold a hearing and vote on the budget. But one group says the money is not going where it should.

"The pay study showed that we're very, grossly underpaid," said Alvin Rattle, "and they should find it in their hearts to do the right thing."

While Mayor-President Kip Holden and other city leaders smiled at the budget's passage, Rattle and his fellow city employees had a different expression on their faces. Service Employees International Union Local 21LA had asked for a six percent, across the board raise after a report showed members are paid less than workers for most other cities. The broad pay hike was not included in Holden's budget, which was adopted without amendment by the council.

"We're disappointed," stated Helene O'Brien, SEIU Local 21LA's president. "But you know, the workers are still coming to work every single day, and still pushing for a living wage and a fair wage."

The 2014 budget calls for spending of $804.7 million for the city-parish, $23.6 million more than 2013. City workers were not the only ones who wanted more than they got--Coroner Beau Clark was vocal about his desire for additional staff--but there were few arguments in the council chambers. Chauna Banks Daniel and Ronnie Edwards were the only council members to vote against the budget, though neither provided amendments or spoke during the meeting about their reasons for opposition.

Holden credited his finance department for their diligence in preparing the budget. He also said the recent decision by Standard and Poor's to improve Baton Rouge's bond rating to AAA, its highest rating, helped get most department heads on board.

"They see the faith and the confidence (analysts) place in us," Holden said. "We still may have differences down the line, but we are content if we work everything out before we get out here [in the council chambers] and start a big argument."

He claimed that another convincing point was that the city-parish needs to strengthen its reserves.

"If we have a storm of any great magnitude, we would have to pay the money out first before we got reimbursed."

Members of SEIU Local 21LA believe they are not being reimbursed for everything they do to keep Baton Rouge running. And they hope the mayor will allow them to share a smile with him over higher salaries in the not-so-distant future.

"I still have a positive attitude about the whole situation," noted Herman Addison, the lone member of the public to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. "And hopefully we can do some things to create a change of the way people are thinking around here."

O'Brien added that she has plans to meet with a few members of the Metro Council after the new year, and will not wait until the 2015 budget is proposed to restart discussions about wage increases.

"We think that workers in Baton Rouge shouldn't be underpaid, and we're going to continue to fight to make sure they're not," she said.


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