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Mayor: City has made great strides in its financial situation

A little less than two years ago, Albert J. “Joey” Richard III was appointed as the fiscal administrator for the city of Bogalusa on the recommendation of the Attorney General and the Legislative Auditor. Richard was officially appointed on May 31, 2019.

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette told The Daily News that the city has made considerable strides in its financial situation since Richard’s appointment.

The two biggest factors that led to Bogalusa being placed under fiscal administration were its retirement/pensions system, and its debt toward the parish landfill.

Perrette said that the city retirement system was slated to become bankrupt by 2023, if nothing had been done back in May of 2019. Since that time, the city has made several moves toward addressing that problem, including the re-allotment of tax revenues.

She said the retirement system originally had $4.2 million in funding at the start of Richard’s appointment. It now is funded at $6.8 million, which is 50-percent funded, Perrette said. She said that the system would now be solvent for “at least 75 years.”

“We were only about 20-percent funding our system previously, and now we are at 50 percent,” she said. “We have now resolved this $30-million issue and the bleeding has stopped.”

Perrette explained that the city has also addressed the landfill issue. The city has given up its ownership share of the landfill, and instead is just paying year to year with tax revenue.

She noted that the previous plan required the city to pay $520,000 a year for its share of landfill ownership. However, the city only collected $380,000 from its property tax millage — leaving a $140,000 deficit every year.

After selling its share of the landfill to the parish, the city will now instead make an annual payment of $280,000 a year, Perrette said.

Perrette also noted that the city’s improved financial situation has been recognized by state officials. This is the first year since the 1990s where Bogalusa has not asked for a tax anticipation note (TAN) from the state of Louisiana, Perrette said.

A TAN is a common tool, in which a government entity requests funds early in the year, with the intention of paying them back in full later in the year as revenues from taxes become due. Perrette said that the city did not need to request a TAN in 2021.

“I got a letter from (State Treasurer) John Schroder’s office and he said he’d like to thank the city for making tremendous progress toward financial stability,” she said. “We always said that if we didn’t address the wounds of the past, we’d continue to bleed. We had to fix these underlying issues. Now that the bleeding has stopped, we’re able to move forward.”

Perrette said that one way the city will be able to move forward is by addressing many of its roads. She said approximately $600,000 in street overlay is budgeted for this calendar year.

In addition, the city will get another $4.2 million in overlay funds next year in June of 2022, she said.

“This will take care of our main thruways in town,” Perrette said.

The city has also been able to purchase 10 new vehicles for the Bogalusa Police Department. Previously, the BPD had to rely on pre-used vehicles that were hand-me-downs from other nearby departments, she said. Also, two more bush-hogs were added the city’s public works department fleet.

The city of Bogalusa was also fortunate to receive federal funds through the CARES (Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, Perrette said. It received $2.7 million in October 2020, and she expects some of it will go toward improving the pension/retirement fund even more.

“Just like in my personal life I have a savings account, the city needs one too,” Perrette said. “We need to have money stowed away in case of an emergency like a storm, so we’re not waiting on the state to rescue us. While it’s very appealing to spend it all, we’re not going to do that.”

Perrette also praised city government officials for working hard to modernize facilities and procedures. She hopes that soon the public works department will be able to unveil an online work order system where the public can see where a work order has been put in, and check on the status of the work.

In addition, departments are trying to become more paper-free and to compile records electronically.

“I feel like we’re in the 21st century now,” Perrette said. “When I first started with the city there were printers as large as my desk. Our contracts are now in the ‘cloud.’ We can pull it up digitally, rather than having to dig it out of our vault.”

Perrette said that the city would be back in court later this month to detail its progress to the Legislative Auditor. She was unsure how much longer Bogalusa would continue to be under fiscal administration, but she hoped it would not be very long.

“Right now I’ve heard from several officials in the state of Louisiana that we’re in good standing,” she said. “I greatly appreciate the city’s hard work in eliminating debt. The work hasn’t gone un-noticed.”