Harahan finished 2015 in much better financial health than it thought it would at the beginning of the year, thanks to a few infusions of one-time cash, some belt-tightening and a more aggressive approach to collecting revenue.
That news came in advance of the City Council’s special meeting Thursday evening to receive a 2016 operating budget of $5.5 million, part of an overall budget of $7.2 million.
The $5.5 million in expenditures is an increase over the $5.2 million projected for last year.
The city is still drawing from a fund set aside to repay bond issues to the tune of about $500,000, as it has in the past.
But Mayor Tina Miceli said in her budget message that updated figures show the $1.2 million deficit initially projected for last year has been brought down by $861,000, $450,000 of which came from the city’s share of the BP oil-spill settlement. The city also stepped up its collection of delinquent taxes, completed requirements to receive grant money dating back to 2012 and pursued Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements dating back to Hurricane Katrina.
Miceli noted that the city’s decision to rebid its employee health insurance contract last summer saved about $12,000 a month.
She said the administration has collected $106,000 of the $163,000 in uncollected taxes identified in a September report by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office. She said $91,000 of that money came into city coffers in the last three months of 2015, and the administration is pursuing the remainder.
Still, the mayor warned that the fiscally beleaguered municipality still has structural problems with the budget.
While the deficit has come down from one-third of the total budget to about one-twelfth, the change “reflects an improving but still tenuous financial picture,” she said.
General fund revenue for 2016 is projected at just under $4.2 million, down from $4.5 million in 2015, though after fund transfers are factored in, the general fund is expected to finish the year $182,000 in the black. A $352,000 deficit carried over from 2015 will leave the running fund balance $170,000 in the red at the end of 2016, but that is a big improvement from the $1.2 million deficit Miceli inherited when she took office at the beginning of 2015.
Miceli said the city used a conservative approach in its budget projections, and that “our desire is to continue reducing the deficit in the general fund, decrease expenditures when appropriate and seek additional revenue sources.”
She said departmental salaries and staffing levels “remain essentially unchanged.”
Miceli said this is the first time the city’s budget has been broken down to show administrative revenue and expenditures at the departmental level.
As is true this year, Harahan’s last two budgets were passed well after the Jan. 1 start of the fiscal year, as the city struggled to cover costs with a mostly residential tax base and an administrative staff too small to collect all the revenue it was entitled to.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.