CLINTON — The East Feliciana Parish Police Jury approved budgets for the coming year at a brief session Dec. 21, but one juror called for further study of ways to trim expenses.
The jury’s general fund is projected to end next year with an operating deficit of $65,719 because of reduced income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other budget challenges, Treasurer Lisa Shaffer told the jury.
The deficit would be higher if it were not for the building permit fund making a one-time contribution next year of $100,000. Although the fund operates within the general fund, its revenue of building permit fees and expenses are tracked separately.
Because of increased construction of homes and other buildings, the fund is projected to have a surplus of $153,000 by Dec. 31, allowing for the transfer.
The pandemic reduced sales tax revenues by 12% this year, severance taxes by 27% and state revenue sharing payments by 66%, Shaffer reported.
At the same time, costs increased because of compliance with safety standards brought about by the pandemic.
Big-ticket items on the expenditure side of the general fund ledger next year include two high-profile criminal trials and maintenance of the aging parish jail, Shaffer wrote in the budget message.
The Police Jury also is faced with a large payout for a sales tax overpayment to the parish and a payment to former parish Coroner Michael Cramer when his lawsuit with the parish is settled. Cramer refused to accept payments from the jury in a dispute over his salary during his term and filed suit earlier this year.
Before the jury approved the budgets, Juror Chris Hall called for budget cuts next year, saying the $100,000 transfer amounted to “robbing Pete to pay Paul.” He said the Finance Committee should schedule a meeting with Shaffer to look for ways to cut the budget.
The jury will not be able to do any major capital improvement projects in the coming year but should use the time to plan for a program in 2022, she said.
The jury also accepted Shaffer’s recommendation to operate the Coroner’s Office as part of the health unit fund.
The current coroner, Dr. Ewell D. Bickham, gave a report on his activities for the year, saying he has been a full-time coroner since taking office last March 23 but noting that he has “lost a lot of friends, neighbors and loved ones throughout the parish” during that time.
He said he had investigated 280 deaths. Of that number, 54 were caused by COVID-19 and 226 from other causes, including three in automobile accidents, two in homicides and six in drug overdoses.
He also said he has “made many a house call” to aid people who have family members suffering from mental health issues, including one call in which he disarmed a mental patient.
“I feel that’s my job,” Bickham said.