By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — After three consecutive Slidell City Council meetings discussing the rental fees for the new Slidell Municipal Auditorium, the council approved the fees on Tuesday night, and also passed the 2012-2013 budget.
While the actual approval of the $43 million budget as proposed by Mayor Freddy Drennan seemed to be a secondary issue—even drawing some fiery words from Councilman Sam Caruso directed towards Councilman Buddy Lloyd—the big issue of the night proved to be rental fees for the new Slidell Auditorium.
For the third consecutive council meeting, a long discussion ensued from the council and members of the public about just where the fees should settle.
In the end, the council approved a substitute motion by Councilman Lionel Hicks that keeps the basic fees between $2,000 and $3,000 for a 12-hour rental period.
Three different basic rates were set, with a $2,000 fee for non-profit charitable groups, a $2,500 fee for other non-profits, and a $3,000 fee for organizations that are for-profit, public agencies or political groups.
In the end, Hicks’ motion to cut some costs lower than originally proposed passed, but with a recommendation included that the council will review the fees in 18-months. The final vote was 8-1, with only Councilman Joe Fraught against the measure.
After the matter was finally settled, Councilman Jay Newcomb was the first of several council members who said the council has to revisit the matter at the 18-month period, and then not be afraid to raise rates if city costs warranted it.
One issue is who will provide the needed city staffing, since Public Works Director Michael Noto said it will take five city workers to handle things like sound, lighting, staging, maintenance and other jobs for any group that wants to use it. Currently, he said, the city only has Crew Chief Karen McQueen trained to operate the special functions of the new state-of-the-art facility.
Lloyd commented later in the meeting that the city had its priorities out of line by talking for an hour about building fees, but voting on the budget in less than 10 minutes. That led Caruso to blast Lloyd for making the comment.
Salaries for the new year for the mayor, chief of police and council were voted on. Those salaries were left where they were, with the mayor making $104,212 annually, the chief making $93,791 and council members making $18,750 a year.