The St. Charles Parish Council has wrapped up the last of a series of meetings to discuss the proposed $131 million parish government budget for 2014.
The council tabled a measure that would have approved the budget on Monday and will discuss finalizing it at their Nov. 18 meeting. The budget must be accepted by the council before Dec. 1 or Parish President V.J. St. Pierre’s proposed budget, without revisions, is enacted on Jan. 1.
The projected 2014 budget is down six percent from the 2013 proposed budget of $139.7 million largely due to an anticipated decrease in sales tax.
Next year, sales tax collections are anticipated to fall to $28.8 million, down from $33.5 million in 2013.
The decrease in sales tax is linked to the culmination of industry construction projects in the parish.
Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier said the Parish Council has done what they can with the decreased funds, especially in the area of flood protection.
“The revenue is down. Our main concern is trying to find as much money as we can to fund that levee and to protect the citizens. That’s basically it. When you don’t have a lot to work with, there is not a whole lot you can do,” she said.
Councilman Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux said he thinks the parish has done a good job preparing itself for the decreased revenue.
“The budget has been pretty good. I think everyone has been aware of the reduction in revenue that is going to be coming in and the possible continue of reduction,” he said. “We have enjoyed a spike in that a lot ( in past years) due to the expansion of industry in the area.”
Faucheux said the $25 million set aside for flood protection in the parish, most notably for the Willowdale portion of the West Bank hurricane protection levee, only differs from budgets in the past in that the parish might able to spend that money.
“Now with the approval of the permits, there is a possibility of spending that,” he said. “Previous to that, $20 million has been carried in the budget for a while.”
Faucheux said the total flood protection budget includes more than $2 million provided by the state.
Parish Council Chairwoman Wendy Benedetto said the levee project is overdue. Although it will take money away from other projects, she believes it is well worth it.
“The parish is giving as much as they can to get the West Bank hurricane levee protection project going and the council members are giving up other things that need to be done, but it is for the best and we will get through it,” she said.
However, Benedetto said she hopes in the future more attention can be paid to smaller projects in individual districts.
“We still have to function as a parish and every district needs things. To put it off one year is okay, but it adds up,” she said. “It’s stuff that (residents) were promised or needed. Several projects got put on the back burner so other projects can be done.”
In the future, Councilman Paul Hogan said he would like to have more dialogue with the parish administration before the budget is created.
“That would be nice instead of the council having to make amendments after the budget was prepared,” he said.
For example, Hogan mentioned an area of Des Allemands where water flushes out of a local shrimp processor and does not drain away.
“This neighborhood has been suffering with this for six years,” Hogan said. “It is so bad that they can’t go out in their yard.”
Hogan successfully made an amendment to secure $16,000 for a project that would drain the water away. Although the project received funding, he said it would have been a smoother process if it would have been included in St. Pierre’s original budget.
Overall though, Hogan said he is pleased with the budget and expects it to pass without issue on the Nov. 18 council meeting.
“Revenues have decreased a little bit but we are setting aside a big chunk of the budget for the West Bank hurricane protection levee, which needs to be our primary objective until we get some protection,” he said.
Outspoken Bayou Gauche resident David Wedge has been attending Parish Council meetings pleading for money to be spent on flood control since FEMA announced the insurance rate hikes connected to the Biggert-Waters Act.
Wedge pointed to $4.1 million set aside in the budget to renovate the third floor of the courthouse for personnel office space.
“Why do we need to spend that type of money rebuilding that now when we need to be building levees and more important things?” he said.
Wedge also pointed to the newly constructed Edward A. Dufresne Community Center that was opened in mid-October, and largely paid for with federal and state funds, as a long-term resource drain.
“We got a fantastic grant, I am not going to say we didn’t, but we built something that will not accommodate school graduations. The budget for that is $300,000 a year and where is that money going to come from?” he said. “It comes from the dirt that we need for levees.”