Ordinances introduced that could increase water bill fees, induce parish govt. layoffs

Aug 10th, 2012 | By | Category: News

Three ordinances were introduced during the August 7 council meeting that aim to close the parish’s $2 million 2012 budget gap and fix an anticipated $10 million gap for the 2013 fiscal year– all of which were tabled until the August 21 council meeting.

The parish’s budget woes are brought on by inaccurate sales tax projections, stemming from a 2010 – 2011 spike in revenue generated during the BP oil spill response. The inflated figure was $21 million in sales tax revenue, the actual sales tax revenue figures for 2012 are significantly lower.

Of the three ordinances introduced at the August 7 council meeting, one proposed a water and sewer bill increase of $55.03 per month, which would save the parish from laying off more employees. The second proposed a $27.51 water and sewer fee increase, as well as the layoffs of 92 parish employees. The third option calls solely for laying off 174 parish employees.

The parish workforce– nearly 460 employees– makes up around 65 percent of all parish expenditures. Nearly 60 employees were let go earlier in the year which saved the parish $1.6 million. However, the administration feels that layoffs could affect the quality of service residents are used to, as the parish employees are vital to keeping up the new infrastructure built since Hurricane Katrina.

Parish President Dave Peralta clarified during the August 7 meeting that no fees or layoffs have been decided yet. The ordinances are simply a starting point for the council and administration to move forward with the most realistic and least detrimential option for all citizens of St. Bernard.

“We gave three options, any of which is a base to start from,” Peralta explained exasperatedly during the August 7 meeting. “We’re not proposing one over the other.”

District D Councilman Casey Hunnicutt echoed those sentiments, and stated that “this item introduced is going to change drastically by Monday; a lot can change between now and two Tuesdays from now– these introductions are not the final product.”

In terms of the $10 million problem for 2013, Councilchair Guy McInnis stated that the parish could look at putting the fees for 2013 on the ballot in December in addition to “looking at things going forward that we can do this year that would save our employees.”

Section 2-17 of the parish charter states that “all proposals to levy a new or increase and existing sale and use tax, charge, or fee shall be submitted to the voters for approval in accordance with the laws of the state.”

All in all, the ordinances introduced are simply a starting point for the parish to tackle the short and long-term financial difficulties looming ahead, and the council and administration expect to make changes to whats o the table after the upcoming Executive Finance Committee and Town Hall meetings.

“We are all educating ourselves on the intimate details of this budget so that we have the least amount of impact on our community, which includes the people that work for this government and the people that pay for it,” Councilchair Guy McInnis affirmed.

The budget is to be further discussed at the August 13 Executive Finance Committee meeting. Councilchair Guy McInnis is also hosting a Town Hall meeting on August 15 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers to hear the public’s concerns and opinions about the proposed water and sewer fee increases.

The three ordinances are expected to be taken up again at the August 2 meeting.

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