St. James Council passes 2014 budget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 7, 2013

By David Vitrano

CONVENT – Following a short public hearing and no formal discussion, the St. James Parish Council passed the proposed 2014 budget.
The budget includes more than $56 million in revenue, a $10 million increase over 2013, and nearly $59 million in expenditures, an increase of almost 22 percent over 2013.
As a parish, St. James relies heavily on the tax base generated by its industrial sector, and several new industrial projects or expansions are slated to begin in 2014. Also, because of Hurricane Isaac exemptions, property tax collections in 2014 are expected to exceed those of 2013 and are budgeted at more than $15 million. Taxes account for 41 percent of the revenue in the 2014 budget.
A special somewhat informal meeting was held late last month during which council members were able to address any concerns about the fiscal plan. While there were some particular sticking points, such as funding for mosquito control or a proposed automated work order system, most of the inquiries were more about clarification than anything else. One specific question, however, dealt with the budgeted adding of a chief administrative officer to the payroll, but Parish President Timmy Roussel said the person hired for that position would be paid along the lines of a departmental director and would bring the structure of the parish government closer to that of neighboring parishes.
In other action from Wednesday’s meeting, the Army Corps of Engineers chosen storm protection alignment filled much of the Parish President’s Report, with many on the council not only upset that St. James Parish was left out of the protection of the main structure but also wanting written confirmation from the corps that they will follow through on the promise to build ring levees and other protection measures for the residents of St. James Parish.
“I thought it was a valiant effort by everyone involved, except the corps,” said Roussel. “We need to work to make sure we protect as many people as we can. We’re going to get it in writing.”
He added that one factor that hurt the chances for Alignment D, which would have put St. James Parish inside the zone of protection, was the amount of environmental damage it would cause. He added that taking a drastic measure such as filing a lawsuit could put the entire project in jeopardy.
Also Wednesday, the apparent victory of residents opposed to the location of Wolverine Terminals near the intersection of Louisiana Highways 44 and 642 — the council passed a resolution opposing the Paulina location at its last meeting — seemed to spur others to action as the Rev. Marshall Cooper spoke on behalf of the residents of District 5 against the proposed construction of a massive methanol plant there.
He said the plan is to build the plant next to a District 5 park where children often play.
“Everybody uses the park,” he said. “It would cause a great problem to the community.”
He said he has already gathered more than 250 signatures from area residents. He added that he and the other residents of the area would not oppose the plant’s relocation farther to the west.
“Let them locate where all the plants are,” he said.
He also suggested the parish reconsider its seeming open-door policy for industry.
‘I think there are other ways to bring economic development,” he said.