St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. has proposed a 2016 operating budget that envisions dipping into the parish’s reserve funds to the tune of $15.2 million, leaving barely the legal minimum for the so-called rainy-day fund, with the hope that a future boom in the industrial sector will produce enough cash to replenish the emergency stash.
In a parish where the local economy is dominated by energy and petrochemical companies, changes in the health of those markets often lead “to big highs and sometimes big lows,” for government, parish Chief Financial Officer Grant Dussom said. “Industry basically drives everything here.”
Dussom noted, for instance, that an industrial expansion in 2011 led to a nearly 25 percent increase in parish sales tax revenue the following year.
He and parish Economic Development and Tourism Director Corey Faucheux predict a similar boom will leave the parish flush in 2017 and 2018.
In the meantime, next year’s proposed budget will have to lean on the rainy-day fund. The plan includes $92.4 million in proposed spending — the biggest chunk of it on parish employees — with revenue of just $77.2 million.
The administration anticipates adding 28 jobs in 2016, bringing the total to 728 full-time positions. In his budget message, St. Pierre said the hiring will help the parish respond to demands for better drainage, roads and recreation services.
Ten of the new employees would be hired in recreation, eight in drainage and five to work on street paving projects, the budget shows.
St. Pierre, who will step down in January because of term limits, said, “Next year’s budget, I believe, sets up the next administration and council for success in providing sustained services and infrastructure enhancements into the future.”
Terry Authement and Larry Cochran will meet in a Nov. 21 runoff to decide St. Pierre’s successor.
Despite hiring increases, the proposed 2016 budget actually calls for substantially less spending than last year’s budget, down by about $43.1 million. That’s mainly because residents passed a new property tax in May that will fund levee improvements separately, so that expense no longer will come out of the general fund.
Even so, the parish still is tapping into its fund balance by about $15.2 million in 2016, and about $6.3 million will come from the rainy-day fund, the government’s only unrestricted pool of savings.
The plan would drop the emergency fund to about $7.2 million by the end of the year, just above the $7 million legal minimum established by the Parish Council in 2010 to make sure there is money available for dealing with hurricanes or other disasters.
Parish officials point to several major industrial projects they expect to break ground by the end of 2016.
Entergy may start on a $900 million expansion at its Little Gypsy power plant in Montz; Monsanto is planning a $1 billion expansion at its Luling plant; Valero is building a new $600 million methanol unit at its Norco facility; and AM Agrigen Industries is putting up a $1 billion fertilizer plant on the parish’s west bank.
The Parish Council will hold three public hearings over the next two weeks at which residents can comment on the proposed 2016 budget. They are set for 8 a.m. Tuesday, 6 p.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. Nov. 3, all in the Parish Council chambers at the courthouse, 15045 River Road, Hahnville.
The council is expected to vote on the budget at the Nov. 3 meeting, although council members technically have until Dec. 1 to amend and approve the budget before it’s automatically adopted as presented.
The draft budget may be found at www.stcharlesparish-la.gov/finance and also is available at the parish’s East and West Regional Libraries, 160 W. Campus Drive in Destrehan and 105 Lakewood Drive in Luling, respectively.