St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister has proposed a $123 million budget for 2015, a nearly 4 percent increase from 2014. The figure includes $109 million in operating expenses and $14 million in capital expenditures.
Brister said the budget focuses on her goals of public health, economic development, infrastructure and improved recreational facilities.
The lengthy document was released at a special Parish Council meeting Wednesday night. It will be discussed and debated at a series of workshop meetings over the next several weeks and will be up for adoption at the Nov. 6 council meeting.
Dates for the workshops have not been set, said Ronnie Simpson, a parish spokesman.
A projected rise in tax revenues accounts for the higher budget, Simpson said.
Brister’s budget message singles out several long-term projects she considers key, including the St. Tammany Advanced Campus on La. 434, the Cultural Arts District and the parishwide wetlands mitigation bank.
The budget includes $500,000 for road and drainage improvements at the Advanced Campus, a planned educational facility near Lacombe that will house Northshore Technical College and possibly other educational components, Simpson said.
As for the much-discussed Cultural Arts District, no funds are allocated to it in the 2015 budget because the parish is hoping to use grants to pay for development of the 75-acre site on the bank of the Tchefuncte River just north of Interstate 12. Planned features include a performing arts center, a children’s museum, walking trails, a hotel and a restaurant. The parish hopes to break ground on the infrastructure for the project in 2015, Simpson said.
Brister also plans to add to the parish’s wetlands mitigation bank by completing the purchase of the Southeastern Louisiana Hospital site on U.S. 190 east of Mandeville. Negotiations for purchase of the property were rocky, thanks to conflicting assessments and the presence of two families of red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species that nearly scuttled the sale.
But in late June, the parish paid $9 million of the agreed-upon $15 million price for the 296-acre tract on which the hospital sits. The parish plans to keep the hospital and to use part of the land for a bypass road from La. 1088 into Pelican Park, which is not in the budget for 2015. It also plans to sell some of the land to Pelican Park for expansion and to put some of it into a mitigation bank that can be used to help offset wetlands effects of future development.
Also notable in the budget is a $130,000 increase in general-fund support for the District Attorney’s Office in 2015. That increase, however, will be more than offset by a projected $560,000 decrease in funds to the district attorney from criminal court revenue, which is administered by the parish and includes revenue from court costs, fines, and asset and bond forfeitures.
Earlier this year, Brister asked the legislative auditor to audit District Attorney Walter Reed’s finances after he repeatedly asked the parish to provide more money for his office.
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