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Hotard outlines 2021 Parish budget

LAPLACE — Civil service employees in St. John the Baptist Parish will see a welcome increase in their paychecks beginning in January.

The annual budget adopted by the St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Dec. 8 provides a 3 percent raise for those employees, although salaries of department heads will not increase.

According to President Jaclyn Hotard, her administration employed a conservative approach to compile the fiscal budget. She said costs associated with the parish were closely scrutinized and aggressively minimized, taking into consideration the unprecedented challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hotard said projected expenses have been cut by 9 percent, or approximately $9 million, adding that the majority of the cuts are in capital outlay. On the positive side, however, she said many of the parish’s major projects are nearing completion and old debt is being paid off.

Revenue projections are down 8.4 percent, primarily related to tax exemptions expiring on plants. Sales tax revenue is also projected to decline because of the effects of the pandemic.

Overall, parish revenue is budgeted at $84,100,971, as compared to the projected 2020 total of $91,927,256.

Expenditures are projected at $94,809,321, which, despite the difference, will still leave the parish with an ending General Fund balance of $503,033, up nearly $36,000 from the projected ending balance for 2020

“The parish has had a challenging year with unforeseen events arising such as a state-wide lockdown due to the worldwide pandemic, high river levels causing months-long delays in construction projects, multiple hurricanes and tropical storms and other weather events affecting our parish,” said Hotard. “Despite these challenges, projects were either continued or completed during 2020.”

Such projects included completion of the oxidation pond in Reserve, a $9 million investment that should significantly have overflows in certain areas. Also, the $1.3 million Safe Room, which will house critical staff and emergency responders during disasters, was also completed.

Other projects reaching completion included Phase II of the Reserve Drainage Project, which will assist in reducing flooding in historically troubled areas; the LaPlace main pump station; Phase II of the Lucy recreational trail; and nearly $800,000 of road improvements.

Hotard also touted several projects launched during this year that include more than $1 million in road repairs, moving forward with the Airline and Main Complete Streets Project, canal cleaning and spraying and the beginning designs of the $9.5 million Lake Pontchartrain shoreline protection project and construction of the West Bank Public Safety Complex.

In 2021, several projects are scheduled to move forward, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated being the long-awaited installation of the advanced metering system. The new meters are designed to provide accurate readings, smart leak detection and also features software allowing for tracking of water usage on an hourly basis.

Installation is expected to be completed in 2021.

Also slated for 2021 are restriping of roads, including bike path sections; ongoing improvements to the water intake, treatment and distribution systems throughout the parish, consulting with residents on a Mississippi River multi-use trail extending to St. James Parish; and continuing with a resident-led beautification effort to develop a bike trail around Lake Pontchartrain.

Hotard said the parish was able to maintain its AA bonding rating and a clean audit opinion, which allowed for refinancing the 2010 bond issue that will result in annual savings of more than $300,000 for the next 10 years.