Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Zahn Pulls Hispanic Resource Money; Spends Hundreds Of Thousands on Christmas Village

When Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn and his City Council Acolytes pulled almost $400,000 from the account designated to fund the new Hispanic Resource Center, Zahn and his Administration painted a dire picture of Kenner finances. 

“We have no capital budget,” Kenner Police Chief Mike Glazer said as he pushed for his cut of the HRC money.
“We have no capital budget,” Interim Kenner Fire Chief Ryan Bergeron said as he also pushed for his cut.

“The city has no ‘loss fund’ and hasn’t for years,” Zahn and City Attorney Leigh Roussel said as they took the largest chunk of the HRC money for a fund to cover the legal expenses of the lawsuit that Zahn’s malcontent political appointees brought against the City to overturn a Charter Change approved by 70% of Kenner voters.
While all may be true, and I certainly would never begrudge the Mayor or City Council for spending more money on public safety (and, as I’ve said for years, the KFD has been woefully underfunded and neglected by the City), I didn’t think it was proper for the City of Kenner to renege on its promise to rebuild the Hispanic Resource Center especially when money has been set aside for years to fund it.

The capital budgets for the KPD and KFD along with funding the “loss fund”, the rebuilding of the Hispanic Resource Center and improving Kenner's recreational facilities, could ALL have easily been filled from the City’s BP Oil Spill settlement money, instead of spending it on more projects and buildings.
When you make up your monthly budget at home, you must set priorities. Do we go out to dinner or eat at home and save the money for our vacation? If we can afford a vacation, do we go to Gulf Shores, go to Disney or go on a cruise? Do we go on vacation at all or get a new car or put the money away for our children’s education?

When you don’t have an endless supply of cash (or a printing press to make more) it is all about setting priorities and making choices.
When it’s the government and OUR tax dollars, we should all want our government to make the right choices and prioritize OUR tax dollars to fund the projects that will benefit the most citizens while also maintaining public safety and fulfilling the commitments already made to its citizens.

Commitments like the Hispanic Resource Center.
But, when you don’t fulfill your commitments and claim that the City is in dire financial straits and has operated illegally without a “loss fund” for years, and then spend Hundreds of Thousands of dollars on a “Freedom Festival”, which was really nothing more than an excuse to throw more money at your campaign manager, and on a “Christmas Village”, I call Mayor Zahn’s priorities into question.

For years, the City of Kenner operated a Christmas Village in Kenner. It was always successful and drew large crowds that helped sustain many Rivertown businesses. The Christmas Village was put on by the City and City employees strung the lights and put up the decorations.
Not so this year. Zahn made the decision to pull the Christmas Village out of RIvertown and move it to the other end of the City in Kenner City Park.

And, despite Kenner’s alleged financial woes (which, if you believe the monthly sales tax reports that Zahn gives at the Council meetings are a complete fabrication), Zahn has spent and committed to spend several Hundred Thousand dollars on the Christmas Village.
ClickJefferson has received documents showing that Zahn has entered into a contract to supply lighting at the Christmas Village that will cost taxpayers $75,000 per year for the next three years ($225,000 total) and another contract for an additional $40,000 annually ($120,000) payable to Event Producers, a Harahan company, to provide “Production Management Services for Christmas Village”.

$115,000 each year for the next three years and that doesn’t include the bills for the ice rink, set up of the Christmas Village, clean up, and other expenses.
Who knows what the final cost will be for the North Kenner Christmas Village? 
Now, is the North Kenner Christmas Village nicer than the Rivertown Christmas Village? Perhaps. But that isn’t the issue.

If the Zahn Administration needs to steal the funding for the Hispanic Resource Center and literally beg City Council members for the final $7,000 to fund new KFD gear, how can the City afford to put on festivals and spend Hundreds of Thousands (and commit even more for future years) on an elaborate Christmas Village?
Wouldn’t it have been fiscally responsible and prudent to continue with the Rivertown Christmas Village instead of entering into Hundreds of Thousands in NEW contracts for a North Kenner Christmas Village?

Wouldn’t the Hundreds of Thousands of tax dollars spent on the North Kenner Christmas Village have been better spent on KPD and KFD capital projects or increasing manpower?
And what about the “loss fund”?

Now I'm not saying that the City shouldn't have events like Freedom Fest, even if its under the guise of "Tourism" and Zahn can't prove that City Hotel occupancy increased at all during the festival weekend. 

And, I'm not saying the City shouldn't have an elaborate Christmas Village for residents and nearby visitors to enjoy. 

But, I am saying that neither Freedom Fest or a North Kenner Christmas Village should be a higher priority than public safety, improving the City's recreational facilities or giving the Hispanic Resource Center a real building to replace the trailer it is in currently. 
Clearly, if money needs to be “stolen” from a committed project like the rebuilding of the Hispanic Resource Center, Zahn and the City could have waited to move the Christmas Village and saved the Hundreds of Thousands that Zahn has committed to it.
But, leaving the Christmas Village in Rivertown, fulfilling the City’s commitment to rebuild the crumbling Hispanic Resource Center and buying equipment for the Kenner Fire Department doesn’t get you votes.

Sadly, getting votes and getting reelected is all that Ben Zahn and his Council Acolytes care about.