By Ida B. Torn
In 2006, the Parish Government began its fiscal year with a balance of $133,979 for the Department of Public Works (“DPW”) budget and it brought in $1,595,448 in total revenues for that year. In the ten years since then, the Parish has seen its ad valorem tax revenues for the DPW more than double from $405,659 to $1,047,703. It has also seen its ending balance increase from $226,338 in 2006 to $892,292 in 2015. At first glance, these numbers seem impressive and would more than likely cause some folks to ask why a new source of revenue is needed and give a false sense of security. In order to understand what the Parish Government is facing, you have to drill down on the numbers.
Ad valorem revenues for the DPW have seen a decline for the last two years and, with the Parish Council voting not to “roll forward” on the tax values, this trend is likely to continue, especially when you take into consideration the effect that this year’s historic flood will likely have on property values in the coming years. The DPW saw its peak in ad valorem revenues in 2014 when it collected $1,056,238.
So, where has the rest of the money come from to bolster the DPW’s budget to an average of $3,758,750 for the last ten years? There are three major sources. First, the DPW receives funding from the Parish Transportation Tax, which went into effect on January 1, 1990 under Article VII, Section 27 the Constitution of Louisiana. The amount of funding allocated to the Parish Transportation Fund is determined on an annual basis by the Legislature. The amount distributed to each parish is calculated based on the formula set out in LA Revised Statute 48:756. Natchitoches Parish receives $10.82 per person and the Parish’s population is calculated on an annual basis by LSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. R.S. 48:756 also allows for any excess funding to be distributed to the parishes on a per mile basis. (This explains why past administrations were willing to take substandard roads into the road maintenance system.) Natchitoches Parish received its highest payment from the State’s Parish Transportation Fund in 2007 when it received $630,816. Continued funding by the Legislature for the Parish Transportation Fund is tenuous considering that there must be excess gasoline and motor fuels revenues available in the State’s budget first. Keep in mind, the State is dealing with a massive deficit.
Second, the Parish receives federal funding funneled through the State which was established by the 106th Congress in an effort to continue to provide financial support to states and counties containing federal lands. The DPW has received less than $200,000 from this funding in the last three years.
The third source of revenue for the DPW is a transfer from the sales tax fund for the Solid Waste Department. These funds are available only if there are excess revenues for the support of the Solid Waste Department. The amount of excess funds diminishes with each manned site that the Parish opens. The DPW received almost $2 million in both 2010 and 2011 from the sales tax fund due to the pipeline user fees collected in those two years. For the last two years, the Parish has only been able to transfer $600,000 from the sales tax fund to the DPW.
Up until 2013, the Parish was able to cushion the DPW with reimbursement funds from FEMA for damages incurred in 2005 from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Reimbursements from these two storms were calculated at 100% and the Parish benefitted from a reimbursement scale for manpower and equipment use that was higher than the actual cost of its in-house rates. Since that time, FEMA has revised its reimbursement rates to only 75% and the Parish must contribute 25% of the costs incurred during the floods of 2015 and 2016.
At the Parish Council meeting held on Monday, September 19, the Parish presented its budget for 2017 and a forecast for the following 3 years. Based on the Parish’s projections, it anticipates having at least $1 million dollars less in total revenues for the DPW than what it received in 2015. Without an increase in revenues, the Parish projects that the DPW will face a deficit by the year 2020.
Here is the Parish’s proposed 2017 budget and its 4-year forecast for the DPW: