Jefferson Parish employees are in line for 5 percent merit pay increases next year, one of the few innovations in a proposed 2015 parish budget that makes few other changes in the current year’s spending plan.
The Parish Council is expected to vote on the budget next month.
The $580 million operating and capital budget proposal is about $25 million more than this year’s but largely maintains the status quo in terms of services for the coming year — a result of limitations on how the parish’s money can be spent, a largely unsurprising fiscal outlook and efforts to plug any funds not needed for services into a reserve fund to bolster the parish’s bond rating.
“It’s pretty much a standstill budget,” Finance Director Tim Palmatier said.
The biggest highlight from Parish President John Young’s administration is the merit pay increase, which will be available to employees who meet expectations.
Employees also got merit raises this year, but only after the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to forgive loans it had given the parish in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Next year’s raises are expected to total about $5 million, money that will come from higher tax revenue, Palmatier said.
Officials stressed that their projections are based on conservative estimates of how much the government will bring in.
“As has been the parish’s policy, revenues are forecasted very conservatively,” Young told the Parish Council as he described the budget earlier this month.
The budget is also a sign of the fiscal health of the parish, he said.
“Jefferson Parish remains strong financially, and our bond ratings remain stable,” Young said. “We’re poised to remain the building block for the region.”
The parish budget is largely constrained by two factors.
A large portion of the money the parish takes in is dedicated by law to specific uses, such as streets or drainage work. Those dedicated uses make up more than 80 percent of the parish’s operating revenue.
But even the general fund, the pool of money over which the administration and council are able to exert significant influence, comes with restrictions.
The parish plans to spend about $93 million in the general fund in 2015, but about 43 percent of that money, or roughly $40 million, goes toward funding other parish services that are required by state law, such as the District Attorney’s Office and the courts.
The 2015 spending plan calls for about $63 million in infrastructure improvements, including $11.5 million for streets, $25 million for drainage, $6.5 million for sewers, $10 million for water projects and $1 million for costs associated with the closure of the parish landfill.
The capital projects include improvements to the Bonnabel Canal and various neighborhood drainage projects, Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said.
The Water Department also is saving up money to expand and upgrade the East Jefferson water plant, a $40 million to $50 million project to ensure the aging complex is up to current standards, Alikhani said.
Jefferson officials also have been discussing how much revenue the parish would see if it were able to collect sales tax on Internet purchases. Such a move likely would require changes to federal law, but it has been seen as a way to reverse the decline in sales tax revenue that results from consumers making tax-free purchases online. It also has been discussed as a way of helping brick-and-mortar stores that are now at a disadvantage because they must charge sales tax.
In response to questions from council members interested in looking into the issue, Young said his administration is working to crunch the numbers.
“We’re trying to boil that down,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.