The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office in 2013 once again spent more money than it received, according to an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s Office, a trend that is draining the office’s general fund.
And it’s a trend that will send District Attorney Hillar Moore III once again to the city-parish seeking help.
The office brought in about $11 million in revenue in 2013, but spent slightly under than $11.7 million, leaving a $685,000 shortfall that was covered from the prior years’ balance of $2.6 million, the audit shows.
Most of the expenses appear to be the growing costs for health and retirement benefits, the auditors say. Moore’s office has a $500,000 monthly payroll for 160 employees.
In 2012 — the office budgets by the calendar year — administrators used $438,000 to cover a shortfall, the audit shows. District attorney officials expect another $700,000 shortfall in 2014, which would leave the office with a balance of $1.2 million in 2015.
Moore said the office can still run the day-to-day operations despite the shortfall.
Moore added that the information in the audit is nothing he did not already know and his office has dealt with budget shortfalls for several years due in part to a lack of proper funding, an issue they are working with the city-parish to address.
In 2013, the prosecutor’s office was funded by $5.2 million from the city-parish, $2.5 million from the state, $1.5 million from pre-trial programs, $1.1 million from fines, $1.3 million in federal grants and forfeitures and about $700,000 from other fees.
“I think the main thing is the sky is not falling,” he said. “We have some rough economic times, but we can carry it.”
He requests additional funding each year from the city-parish government and lives with what he is given, Moore said, but it is not enough to cover all the services.
Moore said he will ask for an additional $100,000 from the city-parish for 2015 for a second domestic violence prosecutor and a juvenile sex crimes prosecutor and he would like an extra $250,000 from the Metro Council annually to get out of the financial funk.
“At this point, we would surely like to have more, but we don’t have a money tree that the mayor and the council pick from to give us,” Moore said.
Joy Irwin, director of local government services at the Legislative Auditor’s Office, said the auditor found no internal control deficiencies at the District Attorney’s Office, meaning money is not falling through the cracks.
“We are in a deficit budget,” Mark Dumaine, Moore’s chief administrative officer, said. “And the city is aware of this.”
Dumaine said the issue has been snowballing since about 2006 when the office had a general fund of about $3.6 million. City-parish officials at that time said they understood the budget issue, Dumaine said, but they would not deal with it until it became an issue.
It is now an issue, Dumaine said.
Moore sent a letter to Mayor-President Kip Holden and Marsha Hanlon, city-parish finance director, on June 25 detailing his proposed 2015 budget and calling their attention to the District Attorney Office’s declining general fund balance.
Hanlon said they will continue to meet their requirements under the law for funding the District Attorney’s Office and will consider giving Moore additional funds if he requests it.
The city-parish’s contributions to the district attorney’s budget has steadily increased since 2009, jumping from $4.2 million that year to $5.3 million this year.
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe echoed Hanlon’s statements, saying he and the council have helped Moore in the past and would be willing to work with the district attorney on getting finding him additional funding.
In 2011 and 2012, the city-parish government diverted funds from elsewhere in the budget to Moore’s office to help offset rising healthcare costs.
“Hillar (Moore) has been very conservative in asking for money, but he’s been underfinanced since I’ve been on the council, which is six years,” Loupe said. “Everybody, I believe, knows he’s underfunded and would be willing to help him.”
Mike Mitchell, head of the Baton Rouge public defender’s office, said he has no issue with the prosecutor’s office getting more funding.
“I think that the DA’s office should get whatever they need to make this system work,” Mitchell said. “I think the entire system is woefully underfunded and to have a criminal justice system that works for everyone, each stakeholder should be adequately funded.”
Mitchell said he gets most of the his annual budget through court costs and the rest comes from funding through the state Public Defender Board, which gets its funding from the state Legislature. His budget in 2014 is $4.8 million, down from $5.3 million in 2013.
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