Space budgeted for public input

Final passage of a $195 million budget by the Terrebonne Parish Council arrived with little fanfare last Wednesday. It marked an 18 percent reduction from the 2010 budget of $213 million, and is 5 percent less than the $204 million operating costs of 2009.

During the past few months it has been reported how all parish government departments were told to prepare for at least a 5 percent cut in funding and to adjust accordingly.

The most obvious action taken was an overall elimination of 23 staff positions. All but three jobs were abolished by attrition or simply not filling those vacant posts.

It was also reported how a reduction in sales tax revenue n as well as property taxes and other government charges n declined when BP pulled out crews brought to the area for cleanup following the Deepwater Horizon disaster and other business activity decreased with a federally mandated offshore drilling moratorium.

Much of the 2011 parish budget n covered in large part by federal grants n has been dedicated to levee improvements and infrastructure expansion.

Some council members made their obligatory critical comments as agenda items were checked off during the regular session, but in the end, a quorum of seven out of nine elected officials offered unanimous approval to the final package.

The most striking factor in the overall budgetary process to observers was a lack of public participation or questioning during open council meetings.

The tightening of purse strings and more cautious evaluation of spending is a credit to local lawmakers. It is noted as well that they do go through proper procedure including offering opportunity for public interjection. However, there is little community attendance during council meetings to ask how cuts might impact services. This also means that items discussed in committee are easily rubber stamped with little or no open discussion.

This streamlining might be practical, but it also offers a door of opportunity to slide through actions that might not be in the best interests of constituents.

We are not suggesting that elected councils in Terrebonne, Lafourche or St. Mary parishes would intentionally attempt to pass questionable legislation.

We are stating that a participatory public can only help in responsible governing with a significantly reduced budget during 2011. That involvement is one item government and taxpayers can always afford.