GONZALES — Fueled by record collections of sales and property taxes buoyed by growth in the industrial sector in 2013, Ascension Parish government cut its debts by $10 million and boosted its net worth to $152.5 million, a newly released financial audit says.
The costs of primary government rose $4.5 million in 2013 to $81.2 million but the majority of that increase came from capital outlays, not operations.
The expenses of general government operations, which includes parish government administrative departments excluding public works, recreation and public safety, actually fell in 2013 by nearly $1.4 million to $11.4 million.
The influx in revenue combined with expenses being kept relatively in check resulted in a $5 million boost in surpluses across several parish government funds, including the general fund and the East Ascension drainage district.
These surplus increases resulted in the parish’s net worth rising from $147.5 million in 2012 to $152.5 million in 2013, according to the audit publicized on the Legislative Auditor’s website earlier this month.
The parish’s hired auditor Tommy LeJeune told the Parish Council Finance Committee June 2 that about $17.6 million of the net worth is not dedicated and can be spent as the council sees fit.
He added that the 2013 fiscal year tracks with a trend in parish revenue growth and spending going back to 2009.
“So, basically, what I’m saying is, you’ve had a large uptick in taxes, and you’ve stayed pretty disciplined in your spending,” LeJeune said.
“So you’re spending at the same levels while revenue has grown considerably over this five-year period, which has allowed you to basically bank all the cash. So as a taxpayer, I can tell you that is basically what I like to see.”
Ascension’s combined sales tax revenues rose nearly $8.5 million between in 2012 and 2013, up from $38.6 million to $47.1 million. By comparison, combined sales tax revenues in 2009 were $33.1 million.
Those sales taxes are the 1-cent rural sales tax, the half-cent sales tax for roads and firefighters and the half-cent East Ascension drainage sales tax.
Property tax collections rose $2.8 million between 2012 and 2013, up from $23.5 million in 2012 to $26.3 million, the audit says.
Martinez told the Finance Committee his goal before his term ends at the conclusion of 2015 is to boost the parish’s discretionary net worth to $20 million. He said the dollars would serve as a rainy day fund to afford the up-front cost from a major hurricane or to weather downturns in the economy.
Once that mark is hit, more surplus dollars can be put to infrastructure, he said.
“I hear a lot about doing more with less. Are we doing more with less? So, the proof’s in pudding. You can look at it, and the numbers are there. They don’t lie,” he said.
The audit also gave the parish three findings. One of them resulted from the parish Sheriff’s Office incorrectly remitting $1.2 million in court fines since 2006. The dollars should have gone to Ascension Parish Court but went to the 23rd Judicial District Court instead. The problem was caught last year and resulted in a $1.2 million deficit in the 23rd JDC fund.
Both of the involved Parish Court and 23rd JDC funds are under parish government. The misdirected dollars will be paid back from parish government general fund under a payment plan, Martinez said.