Marathon windfall overblown

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE — Reports of St. John Parish government getting a huge cash windfall from the Marathon Refinery expansion project may be somewhat overblown.

Shortly after Marathon announced that they would be building a massive $3.2 billion expansion at their Garyville plant, it didn’t take long for numbers to be tossed about involving the huge piles of money that St. John entities would be receiving.

Yes, it is true that Marathon is spending a lot of that money through their St. John Parish office, and that is certainly meaning that there is a huge amount of additional sales tax revenue that is coming to the local government agencies.

But an early figure of $60 million directly to the St. John Parish Council appears to be considerably overblown.

“First of all, the parish government didn’t get all that money,” Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said. “And secondly, the money is spread out over two years, and it is shared by a number of public bodies.”

Still, Boe agreed that the Marathon expansion has proven to be quite helpful to the parish.

He noted a handful of major projects have been funded from the money the parish has gotten, above their planned ’08 budget.

** The parish animal shelter, which is now under construction, picked up $300,000 to make ends meet for the increased cost of the facility since it was initially bid.

** Parish President Bill Hubbard recently introduced his new ’09 budget that has double last year’s expenditure for road work. Boe estimated over $1 million came from Marathon to help that increase. Parish residents will be seeing lots of better roads to drive on by next year.

** The Lions Water Treatment Plant is getting an increased capacity boost that will cost as much as $5 million, but will remedy the water shortage problems that have plagued LaPlace from time-to-time.

** The River Road Sewage Plant may use as much as $5 million of the money to increase capacity at that plant by a million gallons a day.

** Hurricanes Gustav and Ike forced the parish to put up over $1 million of matching money to get FEMA debris cleanup and other government assistance after the storm.

“You can see how many infrastructure needs we had, that needed big chunks of money, and we have been able to utilize a lot of the Marathon money to meet those needs,” Hubbard explained. “But the money has trickled in and that makes it a little harder to save it up to use it for big projects.”

The point from Hubbard is that the parish did not have a Marathon official show up at their office with a check for $60 million. Nor did the “check” show up for $30 million. Instead, it has been closer to $10 million in the past year, with perhaps another $10 million next year.

The rest of the money will go to other public bodies that get a share of the parish sales tax, such as the School Board, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office.

Hubbard said there are other big money problems facing the parish, such as the retirement plan for parish workers, since a new state law is mandating the parish “put aside about $600,000 to $900,000 a year” to ensure the retirement funds are there.

“That’s a lot of money for a smaller parish government like ours to set aside,” Hubbard said.

The parish president has also announced an ambitious plan to get federal or state funds to build a public boat dock and marina at the end of Peavine Road on Lake Pontchartrain. That could also need some big dollars for matching funds should they qualify for federal grants.

Boe said that the extra money from Marathon will continue coming in a little at a time through early ’09, then begin to taper off as the project winds down.

The parish plans to ask voters again in April to pass a bond issue that will fund a multitude of major projects for St. John Parish, including the hurricane levee along Lake Pontchartrain, more roadwork and many other items that will be detailed once the parish administration finalizes their new package.