Local government reform converted the Police Jury to a President and
Parish Council form of government in December 2012 with the election
of a five-member council and a full-time parish president who was given the
authority to make important, timely decisions on a daily basis.
Under the Police Jury, there was a consistent lack of financial planning. During
the first two years under the new government, with nearly the same employees,
the Parish has made significant advancements. The difference is in the leadership.
For example, at the end of 2014, each of the parish funds has, for the first time in
many years, shown a positive balance. The last available audit (Fiscal Year 2013)
states “The Parish Government is experiencing financial difficulties…and is continually
amending the budget…and there will be other problems facing the parish – controlling
expenditures, inmate cost, bridges and roads.” Also clouding the picture of the financial
condition is an adverse opinion from auditors based on an inability to determine
the actual amount of post-employment benefits due to be paid to former employees –
a significant obligation that would affect the future financial condition of the Parish.
The good news is that things are improving due to a number of steps taken by the
new government, such as:
1. Requiring supervisors and employees to be accountable for performance
2. Requiring transparency in the business of the Parish
3. Changes in staffing, emphasizing qualifications and experience
4. Better budget practices
5. Clearly defined purchasing practices
6. Improved relations with State and other local governments
The biggest problem facing the Parish continues to be insufficient maintenance
on parish roads, a problem that goes back many years. Consider the following:
1. There are 977 parish roads.
2. Parish roads cover 818 miles in a large, rural area.
3. Of the 818 miles of road, 328 miles are asphalt and 490 are gravel.
4. Many Parish roads do not meet minimum standards for construction.
5. Many Parish roads do not have adequate drainage ditches or culverts.
6. The Parish has 5 motor graders and 3 dump trucks to work the 490 miles.
7. Except for State Capital Outlay funds or FEMA hurricane funds, there have been
few major road improvements in the past two decades.
Road Maintenance Finances:
One positive step taken is the implementation of a new tracking system with roads
placed on a priority basis according to their condition and impact on personal,
business and emergency services. Still, there is little money with which to work.
Two major reasons are:
1. The budget for highway maintenance peaked in 2011 at a little more than
$5,000,000 due to increased sales tax revenues and FEMA funds received
after several hurricanes hit the area, but fell in 2014 to $3,100,000.,
a reduction of 40 percent.
2. The cost of road repair, including base and overlay, has grown to approximately
$200,000 per mile, which means that to completely repair and overlay all 328 miles of
hard surface roads would cost about $65,000,000. Including gravel public roads,
as well as church and cemetery roads, the cost to repair or replace all roads
in the parish outside of the city limits would increase the cost to over $100,000,000.
3. The property (ad valorem) taxes collected for parish roads are derived from taxes only
on property outside of the city of Natchitoches. The ten largest payers of property taxes
collectively provide about 44% of the total paid. The 1% sales tax received by the parish
government is allocated first to the cost of collecting the tax, then to the solid waste
disposal fund. Anything left over can go to the road fund, but that amount is small and
4. Property taxes generate a little more than $1,000,000 per year. Dividing $1,000,000
by 818 miles of road gives about $1200 per mile per year. Or, dividing by the number
of registered voters (over 25,000) shows that, on average, each voter pays only about
$40 per year for road maintenance.
The citizens of the parish expect that maintenance of parish roads is to be kept up
on a timely basis. In order to do this, new sources of revenue for parish government
will have to be found. While some government and associated entities have
accumulated sizeable amounts of uncommitted funds, parish government has
suffered from a deficiency of needed revenues. A comprehensive study of all taxes
collected in the parish might provide new ideas on how to solve the financial plight
of parish government. If good roads is truly a priority of the people, some restructuring
of existing taxes may be necessary.