Added revenue makes budget for St. John in ‘07 manageable
Published 12:00 am Monday, December 18, 2006
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – They say money doesn’t make you happy.
But don’t tell that to the St. John Parish Council or administration.
Added revenue for St. John through 2006, and now projected to continue to grow in 2007, is one of the biggest reasons the new fiscal year budget for the parish was adopted with little fanfare.
The Parish Council approved the budget this past week at its regular meeting with virtually no discussion.
That’s because all the kinks had been ironed out in meetings before that, and little controversy seemed to surround the budget for this year.
Parish President Nickie Monica submitted a budget for St. John in 2007 that expects $46 million in revenue, and only $38 million in expenses.
The increased revenue over past years is due to several reasons, with the biggest factor being the additional businesses here, as well as the growing home construction market.
While the budget for 2007 is only the projected plan for St. John, with changes to be made as the year moves along, Monica said he sees the potential for even better news as the year progresses.
“We expect more money for the parish due to a lot of new businesses, home construction and added sales tax,” he said. “And we’ve tried to be conservative in forecasting that. But I think we also see the potential for an even bigger boost in revenue later in the year, depending on how fast the housing market gets going, as some people expect. And then there is the $3 billion Marathon Oil expansion that is expected to start in the middle of the year, and that could bring us a great amount of sales tax revenue from that construction project.”
Council members agreed that the budget process this year was easier than normal, thanks to the growing revenue to work with.
“Our projections show more revenue, and that is allowing us to do extra things such as road repairs,” Councilman Ronnie Smith said. “And I think we could get even more money later in the year, which I think would allow us to pay off some of our debt.”
St. John had a large cash reserve many years ago, and the hope to begin building that again is something Monica and other public officials would like to see happen.
“It would be nice to see us put money into a rainy day fund,” Smith added. “But we just have to see how that works as the year goes along.”
New Councilwoman Cheryl Millet hopes that additional money might add to the recreational facilities in the parish.
“Recreation is my biggest thing,” she said. “We’re working on some grants right now, and I think for us to improve our recreational facilities around here would improve our quality of life.”
She admitted that it was nice coming onto the council as a new member, since her election in November, and face a sounder financial picture for the parish.
“We’re anticipating 14 percent growth and this gives us a good working budget to deal with,” she said. “I’d like to see the Economic Development Department get more money, but we haven’t over projected our revenue so we have to see how much actually comes in. It’s just nice to not have a money crunch right now.”
One area of concern will be the continuing increases in insurance benefits for parish employees. It was last year when the issue came to a head and council members considered asking workers chip in a portion of their health premiums, which they presently do not pay for at all.
“The renewal for insurance comes up in June and we’ll have to look at that then,” Chief Administrative Officer Natalie Robottom said. “The cost of doing business in the parish keeps going up, with the insurance cost right at the top of the list. We are getting new bids on our insurance now, hoping to find ways to save some money, but we’ll have to look at the situation in June to see how we stand. We might have to ask for some payments for dependents in the coverage, but that would be the only thing we would probably consider.”
One area of controversy continues to be the St. John Airport, which runs a deficit every year. Last year the airport was budgeted to lose just over $70,000, and this year the deficit is projected at $96,000. But Monica said the cost is worth it to the parish.
“The airport is an economic development tool, and less than $100,000 a year from the parish to keep it running is well worth it,” Monica explained. “Besides, we’ve gotten one fixed base operator there now to bring in some revenue, and we have another one we are working with. We have a lot of services that don’t bring in money, but they are important to the parish.”