Gretna cuts off financing for Mardi Gras, casting doubt on future of Grela parade

The future of the Krewe of Grela, Jefferson Parish’s oldest Mardi Gras organization, is in doubt after the Gretna City Council pulled the plug on financing for all 2012 Carnival activities, ending parades on Mardi Gras and bolstering support for the popular and rapidly growing Gretna Heritage Festival.

grela-mardi-gras-2011.jpgView full sizeA rider in the Krewe of Grela's 2011 Mardi Gras parade tosses a throw to the crowds along Franklin Avenue.

The decision, which several council members deemed “painful,” was part of the city’s 2011-12 budget that was approved Wednesday on a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Raylyn Beevers in opposition. The budget projected general fund revenue at $14.8 million and expenditures at $14.98 million. However, transfers from the city’s share of Boomtown riverboat taxes should provide a small surplus of $55,468 to the general fund.

The move to eliminate financing for Carnival festivities not only ends Grela’s 35-year run of parading on Fat Tuesday, but it also left the krewe’s future murky.

Grela vice president Carmen Kass said she doesn’t know what the next step will be for the 63-year-old organization. Kass, who nearly broke down in tears at the council meeting, said board members will have to discuss whether they want to take offers to move to a different area.

The krewe was founded in 1947 as a men’s club, called the Gretna Carnival Club. The next year, it sponsored its first parade, with mule-drawn floats, as the Krewe of Grela, an acronym for Gretna, La. The parade in its present incarnation began rolling on Mardi Gras in 1984 at the request of the city.

“It’s just so hard to accept,” Kass told the council, her voice quivering as she discussed what she called a covert betrayal of Grela. “If Mardi Gras is over in Gretna, it’s over for me forever.”

The decision to eliminate money for Carnival events seemed like a forgone conclusion Wednesday. Council members had to find about $466,000 to pay for the Heritage Festival and the Carnival activities. Even Councilman Wayne Rau, a longtime Carnival supporter, said the city was going to have choose which event was more important.

The city’s Carnival budget paid for equipment, supplies, cleanup and security, with half of the expenses occurring on Mardi Gras.

“I think the nitty gritty comes down to if we can afford the festival and Mardi Gras,” Rau said.

Ultimately, the council used a mishmash of money to allocate the $272,000 needed for the expanding festival, including $60,000 from the tourism budget, $75,000 from city court, $55,000 in projected general fund surplus and $55,000 in discretionary money from the council and the mayor. That solution was reached after extensive debate by the council that included the possibility of gutting the tourism department to dedicate $140,000 to the festival.

Councilman Vincent Cox III argued that the tourism department wasn’t providing much “bang for its buck” while the festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors and has garnered national attention, is Gretna’s signature event.

Yet Councilwoman Belinda Constant questioned that move.

“I don’t think we can put all our eggs in one basket for a weekend,” Constant said.

Still, the city’s overall budget continues the austere practices from last fiscal year. The police and public works departments agreed to request only 50 percent of the new equipment they need at the start of the budget year with the understanding that as the city gets a better idea of its sales tax picture, providing more equipment will be a priority. The budget also depends on $500,000 in payments from Hurricane Gustav and more than $1 million in traffic fines.

Mayor Ronnie Harris said the city is much better financially now that it raised water and sewer rates. The previous practice of providing annual subsidies to those departments has been eliminated from the general fund, he said.

In addition, the water and sewer funds have begun repaying about $5 million in loans from the general fund with a payment of $352,000 this past fiscal year and $404,000 expected next year. As the general fund is repaid, it will begin returning money it borrowed from special revenue funds that had dedicated millages or other financing sources.

Cox said it seems like the city’s financial picture is constantly changing, and even the current budget depends on a lot of assumptions. Many of the changes the city made to pay for the Heritage Festival and other activities are only temporary, he said.

“We go from roses to crises, roses to crises,” Cox said. “No matter what we do, it’s only going to be a one-year fix.”


Contributing writer Helen Williams contributed to this report. Allen Powell II can be reached at or 504.826.3793.