Livingston Parish officials are anticipating sales tax revenues will continue to increase in 2018, paving the way for the parish to spend $6.5 million on a road overlay project and making it no longer necessary to subsidize operations of the jail from other revenue sources.
After the August 2016 flood, Parish Finance Director Jennifer Meyers had projected that sales tax revenue would fall off following a brief rebuilding spike, as affected residents struggle with financial hardship.
"We were scared that it was going to fall off a little. Whenever something like that happens, the economy pauses," she said.
Given that expectation, she reduced sales tax projections from $15 million to $13.5 million from 2016 to 2017.
"We are going to far surpass that. We've far surpassed that almost right now, and we still have four months of collections," she said, noting that the parish's one-cent sales tax generated $12.92 million in the first eight months of 2017.
Due to continued growth, Meyers has estimated the parish will get $16 million in revenue from the one-cent sales tax that funds the road and jail funds at 75 and 25 percent, respectively.
"It’s hard to distinguish normal parish growth that would have happened had the flood not happened from people who are still spending money rebuilding," she said.
But Meyers is hopeful it is a continued upward trend, because the numbers are still up more than a year later.
Sales taxes are the parish's largest source of income, along with grant money and property taxes, which Meyers expects to rise back to normal funding levels in 2018 after flood-related reductions in the past two years.
Those expectations are reflected in the $52.66 million budget for 2018, which was proposed on Sept. 28 and discussed for the first time during a finance committee meeting Wednesday night. The proposed budget will be introduced to the full council next month.
The parish budget covers the council, public works, emergency preparedness, a health unit, public access TV, animal control and contributions to other financially distinct agencies, such as the assessor's office, sheriff's office and the district attorney.
The proposed budget projects expenditures of $58.1 million, which would exceed revenues by about $5.5 million, as the parish dips into its $34 million reserves to overlay roads.
In total, there is $6.5 million set aside in the proposed budget for repaving roads in 2018, Meyers said. That total includes $2 million from state grants. A similar program is slated for 2019. Meyers said the parish has saved up money in order to take advantage of economies of scale, in terms of renting equipment and buying supplies.
Parish public works director Sam Digirolamo said the parish's last major overlay project was completed in early 2016. He said the list of priority roads will be written before the end of the year with input from the parish president, council and an engineer.
Also in the public works section, the proposed budget apportions $1.2 million, more than twice what was budgeted for 2017, to build new bridges, including one on Dunn Road and another in Maurepas.
A further $500,000 would be set aside for drainage maintenance in roads and ditches. That's $440,000 more than was budgeted for that purpose in 2017. Digirolamo said there is no targeted project for that money, but he hopes to buy more equipment.
The number of parish employees is projected to remain flat at 231.
The proposed 2018 budget anticipates revenues will exceed debt service and expenses associated with operating the jail, coming in with a surplus of about $54,000.
Meyers said a combination of increased efficiency and rising sales taxes has finally made the jail sustainable. Projections indicate 2017 could be the first year the jail has about $27,000 to spare.
The jail fund still owes the general fund almost $8 million from previous years, when the jail was losing up to $1.2 million a year.
Parish animal control will continue to survive off transfers from the health unit, adjudicated property fund and bingo. The agency has a bigger-than-usual cushion this year, courtesy of a major influx of adjudicated property sales in 2016 when the parish hired a company to help it sell tax-delinquent, parish-owned properties.
Meyers said one area of concern moving into 2018 is funding for the public access channel, which broadcasts public meetings. The channel is funded entirely by cable franchise fees, which have been declining over the past two years as more people quit their cable subscriptions.
During the committee meeting, Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert noted the revenue and expenditure lines could change significantly depending on how much of the projected $23 million in projected grant money is received.
The finance committee also voted to recommend adding $35,000 to the budget for startup costs related to the parish airport.