Show me the money: Library annual payroll spikes by $3.5 MILLION

   

In a recent article, we showed you three places where the parish could recover nearly $9 MILLION in revenue for the general fund. Not to be outdone, an author on a local “news” website keeps saying that all of this is fantastic and impossible. These are the same outlets who think a forensic audit of Vermilionville is unnecessary. Never mind the organization doesn’t know why it’s been losing $1 MILLION a year for the last few years. “Nothing to see here; move along.”

As usual, it’s up to Citizens for a New Louisiana to crack open the budget and recent ordinances to prove that the library grew payroll by nearly a half-million dollars in just eleven months! Over five years, that number is a staggering $2.8 MILLION! If you really want to get upset, then factor in the 2021 approved budget for personnel. That spikes the total, annual personnel increase to $3,509,475! 

If you want to check my math, it’s the difference in the actuals column for “total personnel costs” between the 2015-16 budget (page 263) versus the 2020-21 budget (page 263). The second part is comparing the actuals column in 2015-16 with the 2021 approved budget column.

Of course smart alecks in the local media will say “but, but, but, they hired more employees!” So, I checked. Yes, the library aded exactly 16 new positions. The math on that works out to $219,342 per job added. Those are the kinds of jobs that only Gregg Gautreaux at LEDA would take credit for (albeit without mentioning the cost to taxpayers).

Library raises pay 7% in just eleven months!

At the November 4th meeting, the Lafayette Parish Council authorized a pay raise for library employees through joint ordinance JO-096-2020. The agenda item submittal form is on the third to last page says the total fiscal impact of this ordinance is $2.2 MILLION. However, other attachments to the same ordinance show exactly where the money is going, broken down by department. Unfortunately for the average citizen gumshoe, LCG doesn’t bother naming the departments directly. Instead, they use cryptic accounting unit (AU) numbers.

Fortunately, I’m here to help guide you to what all of these numbers mean. To find out, we’ll need to refer to one of the annual budgets. So, lets have a look at the most recent one, the 2020-2021 adopted operating and five-year capital improvement budget. That document is exactly 444 pages. The library section we’re looking for starts in the middle of page 263, under the OTH-LIBRARY heading. The AU number appears before each expense; in this case: 2639200. That number corresponds to the pay raises on page eight (8) of ordinance JO-096-2020. There are four line-items, which total to $128,116. However, Ms. Elberson explains that the pay raise was actually more like: $135,000.

That’s on top of a big pay raise less than a year earlier

It was just eleven months earlier, on November 19, 2019, that the council issued a 5% pay raise to the library employees. That was done through ordinance O-202-2019, which cost taxpayers $3.4 MILLION. Once again, just like the previous ordinance, the library’s AU code 2639200 appears on page eight (8). Thankfully, they do the math for us on the same four line-items. The “net loss of fund balance” shows that the pay increase cost the library (taxpayers) $273,939.

All told, these two pay raises are costing taxpayers $5.5 MILLION. The library’s increase alone is exactly $408,939. Another thing to keep in mind is the library’s total budget for 2020-2021 (page 263) is $12,578,914. The 157 library employees are 62% of that expense, or $7,820,810 – and that was before the latest pay raise.

What about other expenses?

Every time we bring up expenses, all we hear about is maintenance. “We’ll have to shut down libraries,” is the usual line from the library’s bureaucrats. Returning to page 263 of the 2020-2021 budget shows us maintenance is a measly $248,115, or just 2% of the liberty’s $13 MILLION budget. That’s only about half of what they spend on telecommunication services: $584,056. I wonder how much that expense would go down if the library bid out internet connectivity instead of gifting a no-bid contract to LUS Fiber?

From 2014 (page 269) to 2019 (page 263) there were several categories that saw expense explosions.

  1. Contractual services went from $165,818 to $575,539, or a 2.5x increase.
  2. Janitorial services went from $102,435 to $331,260, or a 2.2x increase.
  3. Telecommunications went from $214,017 to $580,710, or a 1.7x increase, If we look at telecom since 2009 (about when LUS Fiber took over) it’s jumped eight-fold (8x)!

Those three increases alone account for over one million dollars! ($1,005,239)

It’s a good time to reflect back to personnel cost increases. While the percentage was a less stark (still a very significant 60%) it is the category with the largest dollar increase; going from $4,311,335 to $6,890,255, or $2,791,514! Remember, that increase is not one-time. Not only does it reoccur every single year, but it historically gets even larger. If we factor in the 2021 personnel budget of $7,820,810, it accounts for a total increase of $3,509,475!

The grand total for the last five years of expense increases in just these four categories is a whopping $4,514,714!

The library … responds?

Library Director, Teresa Elberson, suggested in a memorandum that if the library doesn’t cut the budget, it’ll spend too much. That’s what I like to call a “profound statement.” Anyone bothering to read the four-page document will quickly notice that the library never even considered adjusting expenses. Director Elberson only laments the loss of one of her three taxes, and over-explains why she needs more money. If her inclination for frivolous spending is ever in doubt, one needn’t look any further than that purchase of a $10,587 Mustang loveseat.

Is it really so difficult to find ways to cut a budget? Not really. How do I know?

I found another $1.4 MILLION in ten minutes without even trying

Finally, let’s have a look at just one more set of numbers. Those being the differences between what the library said they’d spend in 2018-19 at budget time, versus how much was actually spent. It’s 2018-19 numbers because those are the latest LCG has made available to the public. We do the simple math by comparing the 2020-21 budget‘s “2018-19 actual” column (pages 263 and 264) to the 2018-19 budget‘s “2018-19 adopted” column (pages 265 and 266).

If we look at the bottom line (we’ll even take out capital outlay to be nice) the library over-budgeted expenses by $1,393,457. That sum alone would triple what Lorrie Toups estimates is in the Parish’s general fund.

Breaking it down by major spending categories reveals a startling overestimate of personnel expenses, to the tune of $711,921. That’s nearly three quarters of a million dollars! Add in a $112,995 overestimation for utilities, and we’ve just recovered $824,916. Those lonely two line-items could effectively DOUBLE the parish general fund all by themselves. Another bit of a shock was the telecommunication expenses, which we assume goes to LUS Fiber. That jumped an astonishing $38,540 from $542,170 to $580,710.

Could the library contribute to the parish general fund if it wanted to? Absolutely.

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