Ascension Parish government addressing bloated payroll

Michael Tortorich

During the Oct. 1 Ascension Parish Council meeting in Donaldsonville, Chief Administrative Officer John Diez said parish government has been at full stride in its efficiency and accountability study.

Ascension Parish Chief Administrative Officer John Diez delivers the parish president’s report during the Oct. 1 council meeting. Parish government has been looking at ways to cut back its payroll total.

Parish officials have been wrangling with a payroll that has rapidly increased in recent years. Diez said the parish government’s $14 million payroll in 2011 has ballooned to $26 million in 2020. 

About 75 percent of the increase has been added in the past four years, which was mostly prior to when Parish President Clint Cointment took office Jan. 6.

“We need to decide if we’re going to be a job service or we’re going to provide services to the public. It’s our goal over the next three years to bring this number down,” Diez told the council.

Cointment’s administration has set a goal of decreasing the total by $4 million. They have been working with SSA Consulting on different packages and options to streamline parish government.

Diez said overtime pay and raises are being examined. As an example, he pointed out cost-of-living raises, which have been higher than those given by other government entities in the parish.

Parish government has given cumulative cost-of-living raises of 33 percent, which is about 3.3 percent per year on average. This figure exceeds the raises given to employees of Ascension Parish Public Schools and the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, which pays on average 1 percent.

“It’s obvious we’ve been more than generous with pay raises,” Diez said.

Parish leaders have been managing expectations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the administration hopes to start giving performance-based pay raises in 2021.

According to Diez, overtime from 2012 to 2015 averaged $149,000 per year. From 2016 to 2019, the average was $359,000.

“When you add a bunch of employees, your overtime should go down, not up,” he said.

Diez acknowledged that overtime work is necessary, but work is being done to implement policies to bring the cost back to levels in previous years.

Also, he pointed out payroll costs have been saved by not replacing some employees after their retirements. 

Council Chair Teri Casso said performance-based raises have been in the works for several years.

In a separate matter:

-- Cointment released a statement via his Facebook page concerning the parish’s negotiations with National Water Infrastructure.

“Any deal of this magnitude deserves to be voted on by the people. Anything less will not have my support,” the first line of the post read.

Cointment said the negotiation process has been underway for nearly two years, and “great strides have been made.”

He said the proposal put forth would improve the sewer system, clean waterways, and generate millions in revenue, which could be used to improve roads and recreation. 

The Corporate Endeavor Agreement proposal recently submitted would sell utility assets on the east bank, and guarantees NWI to provide sewer service.