St. John budget approval deadline looming

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2012

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council is on the clock when it comes to approving the 2013 budget.

After tabling the issue for nearly two months, council members must approve the budget when they convene for a meeting Thursday at 3 p.m. in LaPlace.  By law, the budget must be adopted by Dec. 31. Failure to do so kicks in a charter mandate that Parish President Natalie Robottom’s proposed budget goes into effect Jan. 1.

The budget was originally introduced to the council Oct. 23.

“I’m not overly concerned about passage of the budget, just disappointed for my staff,” Robottom said. “They are at a disadvantage for completing the necessary work to have the budget go into effect Jan. 1.”

A public hearing with a subsequent council vote has been on the agenda for the past several council meetings but was tabled without comment.  Robottom said she expected a vote at the council’s most recent meeting Dec. 11 but a procedural complication created an additional delay.

 “We were a little surprised (at the Dec. 11 meeting) because of the amount of time spent preparing the budget and the efforts made to meet with and make sure all questions and concerns from the council were addressed prior to (the meeting),” Robottom said. “We have a large number of first-time council members so we made a concerted effort to familiarize them with the budget and the budget process.”

Robottom admitted the proposed budget is “no frills” but said she is “extremely comfortable” with the final product.

Overall, in the general fund, which is the parish’s operating account, expenditures are projected to be $704,000 over revenue, but funding from other sources, including transfers, should cover the gap.

Actual expenses, excluding interfund transfers, are projected to be $56.7 million for 2013, a 1.9 percent increase from 2012. Included in the expenses is a 3 percent cost of living raise for employees, a decrease from the 5 percent they have historically received.

Salaries make up 22.4 percent of expenditures, checking in at $12.6 million, categorically the highest parish expense.

Public utilities is showing a 14 percent increase to $11.2 million because of increased costs required to keep the water distribution and waste water systems operational and recreation costs are projected to rise by nearly 87 percent to $488,481 as a result of an increase in programs being offered and necessary equipment.

Parish voters in April approved a rededication of property taxes to help improve the recreation department.

Economic development is showing a nearly 12 percent decrease, approximately $152,000, based on decreases in salaries and benefits.

Also, the debt service is anticipated to fall $724,000, or 7.5 percent, as officials have taken advantage of historic low interest rates to refinance several bonds.

Revenue for the general fund is projected at approximately $56 million, a 1.5 percent increase, with the ad valorem taxes, sales and use tax and services fees totaling a combined $49.9 million, or 89 percent of the expected income.

Service fees are showing an increase of $900,000, the largest revenue hike in the budget, based on adjustments of the consumer price index.

Sales taxes are expected to show an increase of $411,000, bringing the total to approximately $20 million.

However, revenue includes a 36 percent decrease in state and federal grant revenues, including cutting back all assistance for operating the parish airport.

The total number of parish employees continues to fall, dropping to 285 for 2013, down from 287 budgeted for 2012. In 2011 employees totaled 293.

 “We’ve done a good job managing the budget and increasing funding and funding sources in problem areas,” Robottom said. “We are extremely conservative and closely monitor revenues and spending to remain within budget.”

Robottom said Hurricane Isaac has not yet impacted the 2013 budget but admitted concern regarding the parish’s 25 percent FEMA match requirement.