Vidalia passes operating budget with 5 percent pay hike

Published 4:12 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

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VIDALIA, La. — Vidalia officials adopted an operating budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 which includes an across-the-board 5 percent pay hike for all employees, including elected officials.

“It pretty well follows the same thing we’ve done for the last five years with the exception of some capital outlay issues and things that our departments need that we’re going to be asking the aldermen for this year,” Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said during a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Aldermen, such as, “Do we want to do an across-the-board raise for our employees and things of that nature.”

Officials said the reason for the pay increase is due to inflation. In addition to the pay increase, employees would also receive a $1,050 retention payment from American Rescue Plan Act funds. Officials also agreed to use a portion of these funds help keep residents’ utility bills down during the hot summer months. Gas prices are also expected to make the cost of utilities rise, officials said.

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No one from the public offered up any comments about the operating budget, but individual town departments did.

The Vidalia Fire Department requested a new or refurbished fire truck to replace an older fire truck. A used one had been found for $140,000, officials said. The sanitation department requested a new engine for the back end of the town’s street sweeper, which is separate from the main engine of the truck. Vidalia Police Chief Joey Merrill said four patrol vehicles that were requested in the last budget were never received and his department needs more.

“We need vehicles badly,” Merrill said. “They’re in bad shape.”

Other items included are street overlays on Lee, Dotson, North Magnolia and Plum streets and the turning area of Dogwood Street.

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting, the aldermen adopted an ordinance to declare the malapportionment status of the town’s current election districts based on the 2020 federal decennial census data. Craft said the ordinance is “a step in the process” to get the town redistricted, which is required by law.

“The governing body has to declare and recognize that its districts are malapportioned. It doesn’t mean significantly,” town manager Jay Lasyone said. “It is just based on the population shifts and changes from the last census. It needs to be implemented by the end of the year and needs to be at least a year before the next election so we’ve got plenty of time.”

Lasyone said the next step would be for each town official to meet with the Strategic Demographics redistricting company and go over their options before they vote on a new ordinance that would reset the district lines. Strategic Demographics is the same company hired by the Concordia Parish School Board and Concordia Parish Police Jury to redraw the districts for the entire parish.

Town officials also heard a presentation from the water department about the department performing backflow inspections for a fee from customers that require it.

Annual backflow inspections are a state requirement for certain water customers, such as industrial property, small businesses or farmland. The Town of Vidalia can provide this service internally with some training and equipment, but to do so would cost the town money unless the town charges the customers for it, Vidalia water department supervisor Cornell Lewis said.

“It would be a savings to the customer overall,” he said, adding the water customer wouldn’t have to seek out a third-party inspector and pay their rates. “It’s up to the board’s discretion how much we need to charge.”

He suggested charging $100 per customer. Lewis added having the town do the inspection would be optional for the customers.

“They could still have a third party do it if they choose but it would be easier and more convenient for them to let us do it,” he said.

Craft said the town should draft an ordinance that sets the price and figure out who would have to pay it and bring it back before the board for final approval.  No further action on the matter was taken.