Budget excesses mostly because of Isaac

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 13, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – St. John the Parish President Natalie Robottom said expenses related to Hurricane Isaac contributed to a more than $200,000 adjustment to the general fund, but overall she said there was no cause for alarm.
Council members on Tuesday night approved the 2012 amended budget, which showed expenses topping revenue by $3.6 million in the general bond.
The final figures showed the parish with revenues in the general fund, which is essentially the parish’s checkbook, of $4.310 million, and expenses of $7.974 million, leaving the parish with a shortfall of $3.655 million. The budget originally adopted in December predicted expenses of $7.7 million.
Overall, the parish finished 2012 with a balance of $2.123 million in the general fund, an increase of the 2011 ending balance of $1.966 million. The difference was made up in transfers into the budget from numerous sources, including a $2.2 million transfer from economic development.
“We are not concerned about this slight increase in expenditures when compared to the entire budget when most of it was storm-related,” Robottom said in an email to L’Observateur. “The majority of the increase was storm related, and a large portion will be reimbursed by FEMA. The last four months of the year were spent recovering from Hurricane Isaac that resulted in increased costs to the parish.”
Some of the discrepancies from the original to the final budget were results of redirecting some allocations as well as understating other expenses.
The most significant adjustment was in the executive and administrative department, where expenses ran $224,000 above what was budgeted. Originally, expenses were projected to be $759,715 but came in at $984,210.
The original budget had no car allowance for Robottom, but the adopted budget showed the parish president with a $9,600 car allowance. Additionally, the adjusted budget showed car allowances for other administrative personnel running $15,695 but none in the original budget.
Also, the adjusted budget showed council members with a car allowance of $22,500 but nothing allocated in the original budget.
Robottom said the council in 2012 voted to give themselves a monthly car allowance rather than submitting monthly travel reimbursement forms. She said the car allowance was previously included under salaries but allocated to car allowance to distinguish it from their salaries.
Car allowance adjustments were also made in several other departments, but Robottom said directors have been receiving those allowances but now they are being reported as a line item rather than in their salaries.
Administrative expenses were up in nearly every category, with salaries running more than $88,000 over the original budget. Telephone expenses exceeded budget by more nearly $30,000, and rental of equipment topped the original budget by more than $27,000.
Robottom said those expenses were hurricane related, when employees were forced to put in long and stressful hours in the storm’s aftermath. A hurricane brochure was also printed and mailed to parish residents.
She said the telephone expenses were originally understated, and equipment expenses were higher than expected because of the purchase of program licenses, a new server and a new pro-curve switch.
Secretary salaries listed under legislative topped the original budget by $32,000, but Robottom said there was no hiring of new personnel.
“There was a reassignment of legislative staff that earned a higher salary in 2012,” she said. “The remaining increase was related to overtime worked during Isaac.”
Storm-related expenses also accounted for adjustments for salaries in the Planning and Zoning and Public Works departments.
Understated expenses in the original budget also accounted for a $30,000 adjustment for the court reporter salary under district court.
A revenue increase of more than $60,000 was also realized because the parish began collecting franchise fees from BellSouth, which resulted in an increase of $35,000, the parish president said. Also, she said fees were collected from RTC and Comcast, which led to the increase.
Cheryl Millet was the lone council member to vote against the adjusted budget, saying she had not received answers to questions she had submitted to Robottom’s staff.