Though leaner, Baton Rouge budget for 2021 includes police pay raises

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome presented the 2021 city-parish budget to the Metro Council this afternoon, a mostly standstill spending plan that includes a 3% pay raise for police officers and fills revenue shortfalls created by the pandemic with money from reserves and a rainy day fund.

Of Broome’s proposed $982 million overall budget, which is 2.4% smaller than the current budget, nearly two-thirds—$664 million—is dedicated to cover things like debt, benefits and payments into the employee retirement system.

That leaves just $318 million for general operating expenses, which is virtually unchanged from 2020’s general fund budget.

Though money is tight, the Broome administration has identified nearly $2 million in efficiency savings that will fund $1.8 million in across-the-board raises for all Baton Rouge police officers.

Officers who have not reached the top of their pay scale are also eligible for a 3% merit raise, meaning some could receive as much as a 6% raise in 2021.

The efficiency savings, identified through a study conducted by Cincinnati consultants Management Partners, will come primarily from organizational changes that, among other things, will reduce overtime expenditures within the BRPD.

“We’re trying to give them a good salary so they will not need to work as much overtime,” Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says.

The proposed budget reflects the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on city-parish tax collections. Sales tax revenues are down $2.1 million over 2020; business taxes are down $1.2 million; occupancy, occupational and insurance taxes are down more than $1 million; and gaming taxes are down $854,000.

Altogether, revenues were down $6.3 million.

Unlike many municipalities around the country this year that have been forced to lay off employees because of the pandemic, Baton Rouge has avoided layoffs through hiring freezes, attrition and the use of reserve funds.

On the spending side, the city-parish capital project fund is taking the biggest hit in the 2021 budget. Proposed spending on building projects is down nearly $15 million, or 25%, over 2020. The enterprise fund has been reduced by $25 million, or nearly 9%.

Other cuts include nearly $2 million in salaries and benefits and $1 million in prison spending.  

The Metro Council will conduct budget hearings throughout November. It is scheduled to vote on the new budget at its Dec. 8 meeting.