Declining legal expenses, another $5 million in road and bridge repairs and two more years of life — albeit just barely — for Livingston Parish’s animal control program are among the highlights in the 2016 budget the Parish Council introduced Thursday night.
The proposed budget also anticipates the parish will pull within $200,000 of breaking even for the year on operation, maintenance and debt service costs for the Livingston Parish Detention Center, though the jail fund would still carry an $8 million deficit.
The budget will go before the council’s Finance Committee for discussion of possible amendments later this month, then to the full council for a public hearing and vote on Dec. 3.
The proposed general fund budget includes $12 million in revenues and $8.8 million in expenditures. Expenditures are up 12 percent from 2015, but that’s primarily due to more grant-funded projects anticipated next year.
The total budget for 2016, which includes capital outlay, special revenue and debt service funds, is $44 million.
The budget does not include across-the-board raises for parish employees, and most line items vary little from the current year’s expenses.
One notable exception is legal fees, which have declined significantly over the past year. The 2016 budget includes $146,000 for the parish legal adviser’s salary and other legal fees, compared with a projected $235,000 in legal expenses for 2015, $335,000 for 2014 and $400,000 for 2013.
Another $2.1 million in general fund revenues would be transferred to other governmental funds, such as the administration and the Office of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, leaving a $1.5 million surplus to add to the general fund’s $8 million reserve balance.
The proposed transfers for 2016 do not include money for the animal control fund, which has been limping along on sporadic grant funding and waning bingo revenues. However, Parish President Layton Ricks’ proposed amended budget for 2015 includes a $128,000 transfer to keep the program viable through 2017.
Ricks had suggested propping up animal control with the $228,000 in “no-strings” money BP paid the parish for lost sales tax revenue following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the council split on whether the money should be used for that or other purposes.
The parish’s road fund could run flush with nearly $20 million in tax revenues and grant funding in 2016, according to the proposed budget.
Finance Director Jennifer Meyers estimated a conservative $11 million in sales tax and $2 million in property tax revenues — flat projections from 2015, despite the increasing success of Juban Crossing and other retail developments and the parish’s growing population.
Meyers also anticipates receiving more than $6.5 million in state and federal grant funding for a variety of projects, including Cook Road, Juban Road widening and railroad crossing improvements.
The budget proposal includes $2.25 million for another round of road overlay work, plus $1 million from the Parish Transportation Act Capital Outlay Fund; $650,000 for pothole repairs and litter abatement; $500,000 for the Juban Road extension project; $375,000 for bridge repairs; and $125,000 toward creating another entrance to the Livingston Parish Industrial Park in Walker.
Another $1 million would be spent acquiring equipment such as a pontoon excavator for clearing canals and a dump truck for the Public Works Department, Meyers said.
About $4 million of the road fund’s revenues would be spent on salaries and benefits for the parish’s public works employees, while another $4.6 million would be used to pay off debt on prior road projects.
If Meyers’ conservative revenue projections hold, then completing all projects and paying expenses as proposed would dig into the road fund’s reserve balance by about $2.5 million, leaving $1.8 million at the end of 2016.
Meyers also was conservative in estimating $3.8 million in sales tax revenues for 2016 in the parish’s jail fund, which pays for construction debt, maintenance and certain operation expenses at the detention center.
But recent decreases in inmate medical and dental expenses, if repeated in 2016 and coupled with a watchful eye on other costs, could leave the parish with a shortfall of only $180,000 for 2016, Meyers said.
The parish’s jail expenses have exceeded the facility’s dedicated sales tax revenue every year since it opened in 2009, amassing a nearly $8 million fund deficit that has triggered audit findings.
“We are so close to finally breaking even, thanks to the increase in sales tax revenue,” Meyers said. “With a little more time, we’ll finally be at the revenue level we should’ve been at before they built the jail, and the fund can start paying back its deficit.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.