St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister submitted a proposed $134 million budget to the Parish Council on Thursday, calling it a fiscally conservative blueprint that continues her administration’s effort to reduce parish debt.
The 2016 budget is 7.6 percent larger than last year’s, with the increase attributed to anticipated modest growth in sales taxes and new properties coming onto the tax rolls, according to Leslie Long, the parish director of finance.
One thing that’s not in the budget is the $12.6 million the parish will receive from BP as its share of the company’s settlement with numerous government bodies for damages from the 2010 oil spill. Long said the administration and council are still discussing how to spend that money, which likely will be addressed in a budget amendment by the end of the year.
The operating budget totals $75 million. Nearly $16 million is slated for the capital budget, which covers maintenance as well as new projects. The budget also includes money for various outside agencies such as the library system and the Coroner’s Office.
Brister said her priorities are public health, infrastructure and drainage projects.
She said progress has been made this year on several projects that remain long-term goals, including the St. Tammany Advanced Campus, the Cultural Arts District and Safe Haven, the behavioral health campus that was formerly Southeast Louisiana Hospital.
“It has been a goal of mine, over the last four years, to reduce the use of the fund balance of the general fund for operating costs, and we have accomplished that goal again with this budget,’’ she said at Thursday’s Parish Council meeting, reading aloud from a brief statement that accompanied the thick budget document.
Brister, who is running for her second term as parish president, said her administration has reduced the parish government’s debt by $36 million, or nearly 25 percent, in less than four years.
She also pointed to rating upgrades for two parish bond issues as evidence of good fiscal management.
The Parish Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Nov. 5, and the Finance Committee will hold a series of workshops on the budget before it is adopted.
Councilman Steve Stefancik, who chairs the committee, said attendance at those meetings is usually light and he would like to see more engagement.
Copies of the budget are available at the following library branches: Abita Springs, Covington, Lee Road, Pearl River, Bush, Folsom, Mandeville, Slidell on Robert Boulevard, Causeway, Lacombe and Madisonville.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.