The Webster Parish Police Jury met Tuesday to discuss amending the 2016 budget and solutions for the 2017 budget, which is facing a shortfall.
After four finance committee meetings, Secretary/Treasurer Ronda Carnahan made suggestions for the jurors to review. The jury met as a whole to allow time for jurors to express concerns and ask questions before Carnahan goes back to the drawing board.
Several issues caused the budget to not come in as expected.
Carnahan said costs from the coroner’s office have increased by $100,000, in part because municipalities no longer pay for a portion of commitment cost. In addition to that, an unusual number of deaths, 39 autopsies this year outside municipalities, have been reported causing a $37,800 increase.
“That is just one example of how increased costs have affected us- it’s not the major reason,” Carnahan told the jury. “Our budget is hurting.”
Parish attorney Patrick Jackson said parishes all over the state are facing similar issues with their budgets.
“When it comes to non-restricted funds, or revenue that is not tied to a specific project or purpose, your statutes do not allow for you to make cuts anywhere,” he explained to the jury.
Jackson said there are three tiers of responsibilities the jury has financially.
The first is the cost of maintaining and operating the court system, including operation of jails and the District Attorney’s office.
The second involves roads and bridges and public health and sanitation, including mosquito control.
The third tier is comprised of items not under the scope of the jury’s legal obligations but still found beneficial for the parish, such as arts and recreation.
“You must cut from the lowest tier first,” he explained. “If you make cuts to the first tier, a constitutional officer is going to ask you if you have effectively cut the third tier first, then the second, before funds are kept from your priority obligations.”
Jackson said the items and projects in the third tier are the most popular because they make people feel good.
“It’s not popular to cut these programs, but that you are required to do this is a good thing,” he said. “Most people don’t think about things in the first or second tier as part of their every day life, but it absolutely is.”
The finance committee voted to suggest the jury reduce funding in non-essential areas by 25 percent, with the understanding that over the next few years the cuts would continue and many non essential line items may be eliminated.
Those areas include Council on Aging, Coordinating and Development Council, Trailblazers, economic development, North Louisiana Economic Partnership, Holiday Trail of Lights, Interstate 69 corridor, juror recreational spending, arts and museum and Sparta expense.
Much discussion was had on arts and museums, with jurors expressing their desire to fund “quality of life” programs that attract people to Webster Parish. However, jurors also noted that their legal obligations must be met first.
“I think we have had some good revenue years in the recent past, but when the oil and gas industry slowed down, it hurt us,” Jim Bonsall, jury president, said. “I don’t have any regrets about how we managed those funds. I feel like we were good stewards of the money and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”
After making the suggested changes, Carnahan will present the jury with a final proposed budget to be voted on by the jury at the December meeting. If jurors do not pass the proposed budget at that time, changes can be made and a special meeting called before the end of the year to finalize the budget.