New budget doubles works dollars

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2008


Staff Reporter

EDGARD — St. John Parish residents should expect to see a steady dose of infrastructure improvements in the coming year thanks to a 2009 operating budget that weighs heavily on expenditures for public works projects.

The St. John Council unanimously approved Parish President Bill Hubbard’s budget, his first as leader of St. John Parish, at Monday’s council meeting in Edgard. The plan calls for a revenue flow of roughly $59.5 million, a 3 percent increase over 2008’s numbers, and an expenditure level of roughly $48.5 million, which is a 10 percent jump over last year.

Hubbard explained that a large portion of that 10 percent increase is devoted to an influx in funding for road repairs and a much-needed upgrade of the parish’s drainage and sewage systems.

“It puts money where people get to see their tax dollars at work,” Hubbard said. “The parish’s drainage and sewage systems have been neglected for such a long time, and we felt it was time to pick up the pace on maintenance and get ourselves back on the right track.”

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said that the 2009 budget calls for public works expenditures that are more than double the numbers for 2008. He explained the previous administration allocated $680,000 for road construction in 2008, where Hubbard’s plan calls for $1.3 million for 2009. He said the drainage budget, which includes funding for the Za Montz Sewer Lift Station and several minor sewer projects parish wide, will increase from $500,000 in 2008 to $1.15million for 2009.

“The administration felt it best to concentrate on parish improvements that will be here for a while, rather than something less tangible” Boe said. “It clearly shows the shift in focus for St. John Parish government under Hubbard’s administration.”

Other than the boost in public works funding, Boe said most of the other funds and accounts are relatively similar to the 2008 budget. He said the only noticeable change pertains to cost of living increases to compensate for three separate pay raises for parish employees that were approved in the past year.

The budget summary sheet shows that the parish is still enjoying a high level of sales and use tax revenue stemming from construction work at Marathon Petroleum in Garyville, which is undergoing a $3.2 billion expansion. Boe said the temporary increase is expected to continue for the next 18 months, when the project is expected to be complete.

Boe said several funds, including the water utility system fund, are continuing to be monitored in an effort to address cash flow problems or the potential for future shortfalls. He said the water system fund is still facing a $1 million annual deficit, which has increased dramatically over the past several years. The administration has taken steps to remedy the shortfall, including maintenance on leaky pipes, cuts in overtime and collection of past due accounts, but Boe said possible rate hike may be the only answer. The administration is conducting a utility rate study to determine the best course of action.

The parish is also monitoring the mosquito fund, which receives some of its funding from a millage collected as a property tax with the rest coming from a charge on residents’ monthly water bills. Boe said unfunded increases to the contract by the previous administration caused a shortfall to occur during 2008.

After the meeting, Hubbard said he was satisfied with the final budget and pleased that the plan passed with ultimately no discussion from the council.

“I think it is a good sign of a council and an administration that works together to get things done,” Hubbard said. “I have made it a point to have those good relations with council members.”