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Budget success comes with little controversy

LAPLACE — A series of workshops among St. John the Baptist Parish officials and Council members helped ease what can often be an acrimonious process to finalize the annual budget, officials agreed.

The Council adopted the $107 million spending package with no discussion at its meeting on Dec. 27.

“For the first time in many years, the budget was passed with little fanfare or controversy,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said. “This can be attributed to addressing individual budget questions through three budget workshops.”

Natalie Robottom

Natalie Robottom

Parish Chief Financial Officer Ross Gonzales added the workshops “proved to be an excellent forum related to the budget topics and the spirit of cooperation and information sharing between the Council and Administration and were very helpful in pulling the budget document together.”

Ross Gonzales

Ross Gonzales

Overall, revenue in the general fund, which basically operates as the Parish checkbook, is projected at $5.923 million, including transfers in from other sources, $37,207 short of projected expenses, which Robottom called “immaterial.”

However, Gonzales noted the projected general fund revenue minus the transfers in is projected at $4.6 million so even a small uptick in “any of those revenues could cover the budget if collections outperform projections. We can control spending to a significant degree but we cannot control revenues.”

The $4.6 million projected revenue is nearly $300,000 short from the projected 2016 revenue, a fact Robottom attributed to reduced inventory taxes caused by the relocation of inventory by one of the St. John’s larger companies. She noted the Parish was not aware of the decline when the 2016 budget was approved, thus that number was “slightly inflated or overstated,” adding the 2016 number will be adjusted.

The projected revenue for the general fund is approximately $300,000 less than 2016 but close to the 2015 reported total.

Perhaps most significantly, there were no layoffs or salary reductions, officials said, and in the communications department, a new position has been budgeted.

Robottom said items such as office supplies and car allowances were projected based on year-to-date figures for 2016 as well as historical trends. Similar processes were used to adjust such items as telephone expenses and car allowances, although she pointed out a $8,400 increase in car allowances for Council members was because two new Council members accepted those allowances while two of the outgoing members did not. She said the final 2016 budget would be adjusted to reflect those changes.

Some departments saw significant adjustments in salaries because previous Administrators and other employees left, with the 2016 numbers reflecting final payouts for those who departed.

A projected decrease in spending for district court security, from $63,000 to $50,000, reflects numbers based on actual 2016 expenditures. Robottom emphasized the decrease in funding will not result in less security.

“The 2016 budget was overstated and will be reduced to actual expenditures at year end and will be consistent with the amount,” she said.

The parish president said analyzing future budget trends or potential trouble spots is not possible until the 2016 budget is closed out. Although the proposed 2016 budget called for a projected $90,000 deficit, Robottom said she expects the year will likely reflect a surplus.

She said one continuing goal of her administration is to reduce the amount of transfer from economic development to the general fund by identifying alternative funding sources.

For 2017, the budget includes a $2.5 million transfer in from economic development, which is the collected sales tax. Transfers in to the general fund also come from reimbursements for debt repayments, grants, public works, public safety and recreation.

— By Richard Meek