Parish facing tight ‘17 budget

Published 4:51 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

On Monday, the parish council will consider the 2017 budget.

Given the downturn in sales tax revenue, perhaps it is to be expected that no parish department will see any budget increases, but director of finance Donna Graham said the parish should be able to keep its services steady despite the slip in revenues.

“It’s going to be fairly flat line budget from 2015,” Graham said.

She said the parish saw sales taxes drop anywhere from 9.5 percent to 14 percent depending on the area of the parish. In addition, the parish had to deal with a 24.5-percent increase in healthcare costs.

However, despite all that, there are no big spending cuts, either.

“We haven’t had to severely cut anything. We have a pretty secure fund balance in most of our funds,” she said. “So I think with a little tightening of our belts, we can get through the low sales tax and our increase in health insurance costs.”

It’s not all bad news. Graham said the cost of fuel is down, meaning asphalt will be cheap and the cost of running the parish’s fleet will be lower. In addition, she said the parish is poised to receive millions in federal grants to protect public facilities against natural disasters.

Graham said the parish would get $5.6 million in hazard mitigation grants that will be fully funded and will not require any matching funds.

“A good bit of it is hardening the windows at schools for the Washington Parish and the Bogalusa city schools,” she said.

In addition, the funds will repair and improve older bridges to better withstand flooding.

Finally, Graham said the parish would see a bit of new revenue from a tax that had been paying off a bond. The bond was issued in 2002 and it had been paid off via a 1/3-cent sales tax issued for road and capitol improvement projects. With the bond paid off, Graham said the parish would now have $1.4 million per year to spend on road improvements.

“That’s going to be a good shot in the parish’s arm to maintain those roads and do some more,” Graham said. “We wont be doing 20 miles a year, but we could do five to 10 or 15 at times, and that could be a good thing. Right now the plan is to do pay as you go projects.”

Beyond that modest good news, Graham said most of parish spending will look about like it has over the past year. That’s not likely to change, she said, until the petroleum industry is a bit more robust.

“Hopefully our state as a whole and the oilfield will get back going,” she said. “The oilfield really does affect our parish heavily, because so many of our guys work offshores and their families are hurting right now.”