The St. Charles Parish Council has adopted a 2016 operating and capital budget calling for about $92.4 million in spending and $77.2 million in revenue.
No one spoke on the budget at the council meeting Monday night, and it passed unanimously.
The excess in spending over revenue is expected to drop the parish’s so-called rainy-day reserve fund to $7,058,393, barely 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.
But Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. and others have predicted a future boom in the industrial sector will produce enough cash to replenish the emergency stash.
St. Pierre, who will step down in January because of term limits, said in his budget message that it “sets up the next administration and council for success in providing sustained services and infrastructure enhancements into the future.”
Council Chairman Larry Cochran will face former Councilman Terry Authement on Saturday in the runoff to decide St. Pierre’s successor.
After the administration introduced the budget last month, the council held three hearings on it. It approved amendments adding about $280,000 in spending.
The additions include three new positions: a $90,000 senior engineer position for the Roads Department, a $40,000 geographic information systems clerk and a $32,000 Coroner’s Office administrative assistant. Amendments also added money for park improvements, a 10 percent raise for justices of the peace and constables, and $30,000 to remove a sunken boat that some have said is a water hazard.
The largest portion of the planned $92.7 million in expenses, $32 million, covers salaries and benefits for parish employees, with the administration expected to hire 30 additional employees in 2016, bringing the total to 730 full-time positions. In his budget message, St. Pierre said the hires will help the parish respond to demands for better drainage, roads and recreation services.
The capital budget amounts to $22.6 million.
Despite the new hires, the 2016 budget is down about $43.1 million in spending from this year, mainly because residents passed a new property tax in May. That tax now will fund levee improvements separately, meaning those expenses largely will no longer come out of the general fund.
The council Monday evening also approved an $8.5 million contract with Cycle Construction Co. for various levee projects. The 30-year, 4-mill property tax to build and maintain a flood protection system is expected to generate about $4.8 million annually.
As for the future industrial projects expected to help replenish the parish’s reserves, Economic Development Director Corey Faucheux has pointed to various expansions expected to start by the end of 2016.
Among them: 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.