The energy sector’s prolonged slowdown is hitting some south Louisiana governments in the wallet, with oil patch parishes seeing repeated monthly sales tax revenue declines as business activity falls and workers are laid off.
Parish accountants in Terrebonne, Iberia and St. Mary are reporting double-digit percentage slides for much of 2015. Lafayette Parish, which has a more diversified economy, also has experienced declines in four of the last five months. But they’re not as large.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel this past week admonished city-parish councilmen who voted to increase the budget that begins Nov. 1. Durel has threatened to veto the increases.
“I think we should be thinking in terms of, ‘Let’s batten down the hatches and be prepared for 2016,’ ” Durel said Friday, one day after sparring with the council. “We’ll survive this. But I don’t think anybody should be naive in thinking that this is going to end by Christmas.” Durel said he believed the slowdown would stretch into 2017.
Terrebonne Parish’s fiscal situation prompted a national credit rating agency to put the oil and gas-dependent parish on a watch list. Fitch Ratings recently labeled Terrebonne Parish as “moderately at risk” as sales tax and mineral revenues have fallen. Terrebonne’s consolidated government was one of 15 governmental agencies in the U.S. that Fitch analysts put in the moderate risk category. Two other entities in oil-dependent Texas — a hospital district and Zapata County — were labeled “most at risk.”
“If recent lower energy prices are not merely a temporary dip but a more permanent shift in response to an altered demand and supply landscape, local governments will have to adjust to a longer period of reduced growth in tax base, employment and revenues,” according to the report.
The price of a barrel of oil has fallen from above $100 in June 2014 to below $40 in late August. Last week, the price of U.S.-produced West Texas Intermediate hovered in the mid-$40s.
Oil and gas producers have responded to the plummeting prices by laying off workers and selling assets, with much of the sales proceeds going to reduce debt. Some producers have even sought bankruptcy protection.
The service companies that help producers get the oil out of the ground and to the market, meanwhile, have seen profits vanish and have laid off workers. It is those service companies that populate south Louisiana’s oil sector.
“The oilfield just permeates through all of our economy,” said Michel Claudet, president of Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government. “Look at our big employers — boat builders (oilfield) construction yards, helicopters, transportation. … You know we’re going to take our hits.”
Claudet said parish tax revenue is down because laid-off workers cannot make big purchases and because the service companies are not purchasing the materials needed to carry out an oil and gas project.
Terrebonne also saw a decrease in oil and gas royalty revenue, which forced parish government officials to amend its current budget downward by $2 million, Claudet said.
In its report, Fitch notes that Terrebonne has a healthy reserve fund to cushion against bad times.
Fitch also suggests remedies that could help local Louisiana governments raise more money, including raising property taxes beyond the current millages.
Claudet in an interview quickly extinguished any talk of raising property taxes, which, according to Fitch, can be done by local government bodies if there’s a financial need.
“We’re going to make it work,” he said.
In St. Mary Parish, Chief Administrative Officer Henry “Bo” LaGrange, too, squelched talk of higher taxes.
“There is no consideration or talk whatsoever to do anything with our millages.”
Monthly sales tax collections for St. Mary have been well below last year’s receipts throughout 2015, including a 19 percent fall-off in February and a 20.8 percent decline in June.
LaGrange said the government budgets well below expected tax revenue.
In Iberia Parish, home of the oil and gas-reliant Port of Iberia, sales tax collections have been down the last five months, including a 17.4 percent dip in May. Patrick Segura, of the parish’s Sales Tax Department, said the government has projected a 10 percent drop throughout the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission, which tracks employment figures and trends, recently reported that Louisiana was gaining jobs overall. But, it said, the energy sector was losing jobs.