Parish president taking pay cut to help budget

Published 10:54 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A balanced, albeit skimpy, budget featuring a voluntary $10,000 cut in pay by President Richard Thomas was adopted Monday night during by the Washington Parish Council.

Thomas’ salary, per his request, will be reduced in 2013 from $135,000 annually to $125,000.

“Everyone has to cut back,” Thomas said. “I’m cutting people out in the field (with fewer insurance benefits). I had to bite the bullet (and take the pay cut).”

Thomas said he recently informed finance director Donna Alonzo about his intention while she was trying to finalize what has been a difficult budget process. He said he believed he needed to do something to help the parish.

Overall, the budget saber is striking deep. Each of the sub agencies supported by parish government is facing 16 percent cuts across the board. Alonzo said Monday night she has not heard from any agency directors but expects she will soon and likely will schedule meetings early next year to assist those agencies to work within their fiscal parameters.

Projected revenue from sales tax and the ad valorem tax for the general fund, which is the parish’s operating fund, is $2.31 million, including a 3 percent reduction in the ad valorem tax. During reassessment this year property values, especially in unincorporated areas in the eastern end of Washington Parish, declined.

Sales tax revenue is projected to be static, but that could all change if voters approve a .33 percent tax increase in a special election April 6. If approved, the tax is projected to generate an additional $1.6 million in annual revenue but officials stress that has not been factor into the 2013 budget.

The parish is also expected to generate another $745,000 from unidentified sources.

Once expenses of $3.05 are factored in, the projected general fund balance at the end of 2013 is $4,863.22, up from the projected ending balance in 2012 of $2,188.22

“The general fund was the most challenging to try to find a way to balance,” Alonzo said, adding the first draft showed a $400,000 deficit.

She said she went over every item in each department to try to make cuts. Thomas’ department, which is listed as Finance and Administration, is taking another 25 percent hit, meaning approximately $380,000 has been slashed from that office in the past three years.

“Hopefully, the other agencies will see this and are willing to do the same thing,” Alonzo said.

Alonzo said contributions to the employees’ state retirement system have increased by 1 percent and by one-half of 1 percent for the employer match in the district attorney’s retirement system.

Although no layoffs are looming, employees are having their health benefits reduced, the most significant being the loss of dental, vision and long-term disability insurance, freeing up an additional $180,000 officials said. However, parish employees will continue to receive health care benefits free of charge.

Additionally, those employees with take-home vehicles must pay $3 per day for personal usage.

Also, parish employees will not be receiving raises, although pay increases for employees of the sub agencies will be a decision for directors. Alonzo said the parish funds the salaries for several of the agencies but it’s up to those departments to determine how they are disbursed.

The funded sub agencies include the sheriff’s office, assessor district attorney, clerk of court, registrar of voters, coroner, justice of the peace, district judges and several smaller agencies.

Thomas said each of the agencies has the right to protest the proposed budget and if an agreement cannot be reached the final decision may ultimately be decided in the courtroom.

Overall, the parish will operate on a budget of approximately $17.2 million.

The budget is available for viewing at the parish council’s office.