Potential financial Armageddon averted

Published 7:44 am Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Washington Parish officials have been grappling with a looming budget deficit that was estimated to be close to $250,00 by the close of the year. If not addressed, the parish could have been facing dire consequences from the state, including the potential locking of the courthouse doors and the temporary shuttering of services.

Credit the parish, specifically finance director Donna Alonzo, logging what must have been countless hours crunching numbers and peeking under every funding rock to discover a solution. Although clearly not out of the financial jungle just yet, at least for now it appears there will be adequate cash on hand to avert a government shutdown.

Alonzo was able to identify more than $300,000 in nondedicated accounts eligible to be transferred to the general fund, thus giving the parish an estimated surplus of $2,100 by the year’s end; a paltry sum at best, but a positive number nonetheless.

Parish officials admit a potential spending freeze for all parish agencies is possible — even likely — in December, but also said payroll would not be affected, undoubtedly welcome news for employees as they strategize and budget their Christmas shopping dollars.

No matter the outcome, the budget battle begins again Jan. 1, a fiscal year that could prove to be even leaner than 2012. Agencies funded by the parish, as mandated by the state, must embrace working with elastic dollars, stretching each one to the max. More with less will be the mantra for 2013, and even if voters approve two revenue-producing proposals during a special election in April those funds will not flow into parish coffers until several months later.

Parish President Richard Thomas has already indicated he may have to cut back one or two employees, and that’s in an office that has seen a 30 percent reduction in the past two years. Other agencies also will face difficult decisions, perhaps decisions that have never been faced in previous years. But they have no choice.

For now though, credit Alonzo and the rest of the parish staff, who have acted in a reasonable and professional manner to avert what could have been a financial Armageddon for Washington Parish.