GONZALES — Sales tax collections for Ascension Parish government in the first quarter of the year are lagging behind the banner year in collections from 2013 fueled by growth in the petrochemical sector.
But parish officials said the drop is not a cause for alarm as an extremely large one-time audit in early 2013 and a lull in collections from some of the major construction projects this year have contributed to what is expected to be a short-term decline in 2014.
The chief financial officer for parish government, Gwen LeBlanc, told the Council Finance Committee on Monday that two big projects are complete and officials are waiting for another major project to get off of the ground and start making large construction purchases.
“CF (Industries)’s going to kick in and that’s $2.1 billion,” Parish President Tommy Martinez added, “And we have a couple of other projects that’s going to kick in, so that last half of the year should be really good, I think.”
In any case, the 2014 collections remain ahead of where the parish had budgeted them to be at this point in the year.
Parish government’s 1-cent sales tax, for example, took in $4.7 million from January to March, down 14 percent from the $5.5 million collected during the same period in 2013, a parish spreadsheet says.
The 1-cent sales tax is the primary funding source for general government operations. The sales tax is collected primarily in unincorporated Ascension Parish, but parish government also gets a share of 1-cent collections in some annexed parts of Donaldsonville and Gonzales.
The other two primary parish sales taxes, the half-cent east Ascension drainage tax and the half-cent parish sales tax for roads and firefighters, saw declines of 9.3 percent to 9.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014, parish figures show.
A parish breakdown of 1-cent sales tax collections by industrial sector shows a drop in the petrochemical sector of 20 percent for the first quarter of 2014.
Collections in the first quarter of 2014 are $2.98 million versus $3.74 million in 2013. LeBlanc said that difference stems from the large sales tax audit in 2013.
The other three sectors broken out for 1-cent sales tax collections — consumer retail, motor vehicle and business-to-business sales — have shown growth in the first quarter of the year.
Citing federal labor statistics, LeBlanc said that since January 2008, private sector job growth in Louisiana is second-best in the South and sixth-best in the nation.
She added that Louisiana’s unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is the lowest in the South and remains well below the U.S. rate.
“So all indications are that our economy is going to be pretty robust in the next few years anyway,” LeBlanc said.
She added construction in the parish will come to an end at some point.